How To Choose a Care Facility


The decision to move a family member or a loved one into a care facility is one of the most difficult decisions you can make. Perhaps the move is being made because the family member can no longer care for him or herself...or perhaps the person has a progressive disease like Alzheimer's...or has had a stroke or heart attack. No matter the reason, those involved are almost always under great stress. At times like these, it's important that you pause, take a deep breath and understand there are things you can do. Good information is available and you can make the right choices for you and your loved one. This booklet is designed to help provide you with information and answers to the questions which we, as Elder Law attorneys, deal with on a daily basis. We hope you will find this information useful.

Selecting a Care Facility

When someone is faced with the overwhelming job of finding a care facility for a loved one, the question often asked is, �Where do I begin?� Although this is a job that no one wants to do, it can be done with forethought and confidence that the best decision was made for everyone involved.

When nursing home placement is necessary, it is crucial that the family and/or potential resident decide what's most important to them in looking for a facility. It is important that the resident's needs and wants be included in the evaluation. Things such as location of the facility, if a special care unit is necessary and type of payer source should be considered when beginning this process.

The next step is to identify the facilities in your area which meet the criteria you established above. I suggest working with a placement coordinator to identify the most appropriate facility for your loved one. There are so many choices, and a good placement coordinator can help you sort through all of your options.

Get ready to tour the facilities you have chosen. You will be able to meet with the administrative staff who will answer all your questions. Next, you will want to tour a second time in the evening or on the weekend just to see if there is a drastic difference in the atmosphere of the facility or the care being provided. It is important to tour at least two facilities so you can see the difference in the physical plant and the staff.

When you are touring, pay attention to your gut feeling. Ask yourself the following questions... Did I feel welcome? How long did I have to wait to meet with someone? Did the admission director find out my family member's wants and needs? Was the facility clean? Were there any strong odors? Was the staff friendly? Did they seem to generally care for the resident? Did the staff seem to get along with each other? Listen and observe. You can learn so much just by watching and paying attention. When touring a facility, ask any questions that come to mind. There are no �dumb� questions.

Here are a few examples of questions you will want to ask to make sure that the administration of the facility is giving proactive care instead of reacting to crisis:

  • How do you ensure that call lights are answered promptly regardless of your staffing?
  • If someone is not able to move or turn him or herself, how do you ensure that they are turned and do not develop bedsores?
  • How do you make sure that someone is assisted with the activities of daily living like dressing, toileting and transferring?
  • Can residents bring in their own supplies?
  • Can residents use any pharmacy?
  • How many direct care staff members do you have on each shift? Does this number exceed the minimal number that state regulations say you have to have or do you just meet the minimum standard?
  • What payer sources do you accept?
  • How long has the medical director been with your facility?
  • How were your last state survey results? (Ask to see a copy).
  • How did you correct any deficiencies and what process did you put in place to make sure you do not make these mistakes again?
  • Has the state prohibited this facility from accepting new residents at any time during the last 2 years?
  • What is your policy on family care planning conferences? Will you adjust your schedule to make sure that I can attend the meeting?
  • Do you have references I can talk with?
  • Can my loved one come in on for a meal to see if he/she fits in and likes the facility?

Once a facility has been chosen, there are some definite steps you can take to make the process less traumatic on the resident. First, plan the admission carefully. If you know the resident becomes very difficult to deal with in the late afternoon, plan the admission for midmorning. Next, complete the admission paperwork before your loved one actually moves into the facility. This will allow you to spend the first few hours that they are there with them getting them settled and making them feel secure in their new living environment.

Some practical things you want to be sure to do ... mark every piece of clothing with a permanent laundry marker. When a facility is washing the clothes for 120 people, it is common for things to occasionally end up in the wrong room, however you can help ensure getting the item back if it is properly marked. If you are going to do your loved one's laundry, post a sign on the closet door to notify staff and provide a laundry bag where dirty clothes can be placed. Also, bring in familiar things for the resident so that there is a feeling of home. However, realize that space is limited especially in a semiprivate room.

A very important thing for you to remember is that the staff of the facility is just meeting your loved one for the first time. They do not know his or her likes or dislikes, or those little nuances that make providing care go smoother. The best way you can help your loved one is to tell the staff, in writing, as much information as possible about your loved one ... his/her likes and dislikes, typical daily schedule, pet peeves, and so on. This information is important to the success of the overall care plan.

It is important that you get to know the people who are caring for your loved one. Most importantly, stay involved. Let everyone know how much you care and how committed you are to your loved one's care. Also understand you will not help your loved one by becoming anxious or emotional. Assure them that although this is not an ideal situation, you will be there to assist them in making it as pleasurable as possible.

Nursing Home Evaluation

As you visit nursing homes, download and use our form for each place you visit. Don't expect every nursing home to score well on every question. The presence or absence of any of these items does not automatically mean a facility is good or bad. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Simply consider what is most important to the resident and you.

Record your observations for each question by circling a number from one to five. (If a question is unimportant to you or doesn't apply to your loved one, leave the evaluation area for that question blank.) Then total all blanks you checked.

Your ratings will help you compare nursing homes and choose the best one for your situation. But, don't rely simply on the numbers. Ask to speak to family members of other residents. Also, contact the local or state ombudsman for information about the nursing home and get a copy of the facility's state inspection report from the nursing home, the agency that licenses (or certifies) nursing homes or the ombudsman.

Final Notes

The assessment team uses all the information they gather to develop an individualized formal care plan. The care plan defines specific care the resident needs and outlines strategies the staff will use to meet them. The assessment team meets during the first month of a new resident's placement at a care planning meeting. Family members, as well as the resident, may attend.

When you go to the care plan meeting, bring along a copy of the list of needs you gave the assessment team earlier. Together, you can discuss your loved one's needs and the care plan the team has developed. And, if some need has been overlooked, you can ensure that the assessment team addresses it during this meeting.

Federal law requires that nursing home care result in improvement, if improvement is possible. In cases where improvement is not possible, the care must maintain abilities or slow the loss of function.

For example, if your mother has little problem with language when she moves into the nursing home, the care plan should include activities that encourage her use of language unless or until the disease's progression changes this ability.

The care plan becomes part of the nursing home contract. It should detail the resident's medical, emotional and social needs and spell out what will be done to improve (when possible) or maintain the resident's health.

According to federal law, nursing homes must review the resident's care plan every three months and whenever the resident's condition changes. It must also reassess the resident annually. At these times additional care planning meetings are held to update the resident's care plan.

For example, if your father had bladder control when he entered the nursing home, but has become incontinent, this significant change in his status means the nursing home staff must develop a new care plan that addresses his new need.

As a care advocate, you'll want to monitor your loved one's care to be sure the nursing home is providing the care outlined in the care plan. You may also attend all care planning meetings, whether regularly scheduled or when held because of a change in your loved one's health. This is the best way to ensure that your loved one gets personal and appropriate care in the nursing home.

DISCLAIMER – The information contained in this article should be used for general purposes and should not be construed as legal advice. Consult with your own attorney if you have specific legal questions.

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