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Choose a nursing home very carefully and remain vigilant

At some point it’s no longer a question of if you should move your loved one into a nursing home. When the time comes, the question becomes where.

Choosing a nursing home is difficult. You want to know that your family member’s safety and well-being are in good hands. With a little homework, you can avoid a facility where your loved one is at risk of being neglected or mistreated.

Know the signs of a good nursing home (or a bad one)

You should visit several nursing homes. Arrange a tour of the facility – resident rooms, the cafeteria, open spaces, the nurses’ station. Take time to simply observe staff and residents. Don’t be shy about asking questions.

What is the atmosphere of the facility?

The atmosphere in the nursing home is important. Can you see your loved one living here? Pay attention to the residents and what is going around the facility.

  • Do the residents seem happy and engaged, or lonely and bored?
  • Are they dressed appropriately – clean and groomed?
  • Does the facility seem clean and kept up, or dirty and run-down?
  • How does the food look? Are staff on hand to serve and assist with eating?
  • Are call lights, alarms and ringing phones answered promptly?
  • What types of activities are available? Is anything going on during your visit?
  • Are there outdoor spaces for residents to enjoy?
  • Are visitors allowed around-the-clock? Consider visiting early or late in the day.

The staff is the key to your loved one's well-being

There is turnover in any nursing home, but constant staff turnover is one of the signs of a bad nursing home. You should be wary if it seems like employees don't really know what is going on when you visit. Everyone you encounter during a visit to the facility should be friendly and warm. If they seem stressed or rushed, this might be a sign that you need to move on to the next option on the list.

One of the best gauges is talking to other families who have had or currently have a resident at that nursing home. Is their family member content? Is there a good core of caregivers? Have there been any problems? Are staff welcoming to visitors or cranky and hostile? Is the management responsive to concerns or defensive and rude?

A good starting place is Medicare.gov, which provides searchable nursing home ratings. The website rates facilities from 1 to 5 stars based on health inspections, staffing levels, quality measures and an overall score. Compare facilities and choose a few for a follow-up visit.

How does your loved one feel?

Your loved one needs to be comfortable in the nursing home. If you or the prospective resident do not feel at ease when visiting a particular nursing home, explore others. You should not ever feel rushed to make a decision, so take the time to evaluate and compare the available options.

Once your loved one is in a nursing home, pay close attention to what is going on when you visit. Certain red flags -- like the resident seeming withdrawn or not wearing appropriate clothing -- might signal that your loved one is being neglected or abused.

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