How to Choose a Nursing Home: Comparisons, Questions, and Checklists

There are over 15,000 nursing homes in the United States, and these are home to around 1.7 million beds. That’s a lot of room, a lot of beds, and a lot of choices, so how do you find the right home for you?

In this guide, we’ll show you how to find the best nursing care facilities for your needs, or the needs of your loved one.

Location, Location, Location

One of the most important considerations for long-term care is the location. It’s tempting to choose something by the coast or nestled in your favorite holiday destination, but you have to consider visitors. Are you close enough for friends and family members to drop by on a regular basis?

Choosing a location that is an hour’s drive away may seem reasonable at first, especially if your family members agree to visit. But will they stick to that promise when life gets on top of them? 60 minutes is doable on the weekend when nothing else is going on, but what happens after a busy week at work?

Life is hectic, people are busy, and those promises can quickly fall by the wayside.

It’s not just visiting family members that you have to consider, either. Are the facilities located in an area you like, and are there outdoor areas where you can take walks and enjoy the scenery?  

Services and Care Options

Nursing homes provide many different services to meet the needs of residents and improve their quality of life. Do you need around-the-clock health care, what are your personal care needs, and how can the nursing care services assist you?

Diet is also key, which is why it’s best to visit prospective nursing homes during mealtimes. Drop by the dining room and see the nursing staff in action. Ask them if they can cater to any specific dietary requirements that you have, from vegan and vegetarianism to gluten/lactose intolerance and allergies.

Special care services should also be considered. A patient with Alzheimer’s disease may need more specific and skilled nursing care, while patients with mobility problems require physical therapy provided by specialized care units.

Nursing Home Residents

If you’re introverted, you probably don’t want a nursing home with an endless procession of patients and staff members, lots of communal areas, and very little opportunities to relax and enjoy some alone time. 

Instead, you’ll want areas where you can relax outside of your room and where patients and nursing home staff will leave you alone, whether to read, nap, or sit in peace.

On the flip side, if you’re an extrovert, you may lean more toward busier facilities with more people, games, and community patient involvement.

How Much Choice Do You Have?

Many nursing home residents struggle with their loss of independence, so it’s important for them to hold onto whatever freedoms they have left. If the nursing home plans every minute of their day for them, from the moment they wake and eat to their recreational activities, they will lose many of these freedoms.

It’s important, therefore, to check how much choice the patient has or can have. This choice extends to much more than simply deciding when to wake, nap, exercise, and play. It also covers the food they eat and the TV programs they watch.

Think About Your Loved One

If you’re comparing facilities for a loved one, you will focus on completely different things than if you were looking for yourself. For instance, a family member is more likely to focus on the financial aspect, from long-term care insurance to additional care costs. They will also place a lot of emphasis on the safety and security of the residents, as well as quality of care and medical care, while overlooking aspects such as outdoor time and patient freedom.

It’s important to put yourself in your loved one’s shoes and to think about how much of their daily life will be controlled and whether they will be happy with this control. Don’t think about how much it inconveniences you, but how much it helps them.

At the same time, if you’re looking for a facility for yourself, take your family considerations into account, including costs, visiting hours, and location.

Staff Competency

Are the staff accredited, what is the turnover rate for nursing assistants, and what kind of reputation does the nursing home have when it comes to its staff? You can get a good idea of staff competency just by speaking with them. Are they calm, polite, and helpful, or are they standoffish and cold? 

A skilled nursing facility will always vet its staff members thoroughly, so be sure to ask the facility about its screening process.

Questions to Ask

Before you make your choice and agree to a nursing home stay, ask the staff plenty of questions and don’t leave any stone unturned:

  • What specialist care do you provide (dementia care, physical therapy, etc.,)?
  • What kind of facilities are available?
  • Is the facility certified by Medicare and Medicaid?
  • What is the ratio of staff members to residents for every shift?
  • What activities are available? Are patients treated to regular games, movie nights, etc.?
  • What services does the care plan include and what additional services are billed on top of this?
  • Is there a waiting list?

Nursing Home Checklist

Finally, if you’re struggling to choose a nursing home but have shortlisted a few options, try these tips to help you make your final choice:

​Look at the Residents

When you visit the facilities, pay attention to the residents. Are they happy, smiley, chatty, and comfortable in one another’s company, or are they sullen and do they ignore each other? 

The personal hygiene of residents is also key, as eldercare goes much deeper than simply providing a bed, medication, and food. They should be clean and well-groomed.

Check for Violations

Use www.Medicare.Gov to check reports on your chosen nursing homes. You can scan health inspections, look for staffing violations, and see if there are any serious missteps. 

Violations are not uncommon, but it is the severity of these violations that you need to focus on. For instance, they may get a minor violation concerning the placement of hygiene facilities or something else that is easily fixable. At the same time, they could receive a major violation for putting a patient’s safety at risk. The first violation is easy to dismiss and ignore, but the second is not.

Does it Feel Right?

How did the nursing home feel when you visited? Did you have a bad feeling in your gut, or did it make you feel right at home? 

That hunch you get that something is wrong may result from sullen and depressed patients, uncaring staff members, dull decor, and a general lifeless atmosphere. It’s a subconscious feeling stemming from real-world stimuli, and you should pay attention to it.