Placing a loved one in a nursing home can be an emotionally heart-wrenching decision for families. But for those who need professional medical services on an ongoing basis, a long-term care facility is often the best option. The only question is which skilled nursing facility will be the best fit? The best way to find out is to visit one and take a tour.
To begin the process, schedule a nursing home tour when there is no urgent need for one, recommends Maria Hood, director of admissions at United Hebrew.
“We often receive calls when a loved one has had a health event and has an immediate need for placement. We make sure to accommodate a visit quickly. However, a thorough evaluation is best done by the family when it’s a less stressful time.”
Extended planning also has its benefits, according to Meghan Bracken, assistant director of care management at White Plains Hospital. She and her nursing and social work colleagues meet with patients from the time they are admitted to when they are discharged. They are a good source for recommendations on how to choose a short-term rehabilitation facility or nursing home.
“A patient may only need a short-term stay facility, but we encourage them to think beyond that. So if the need arises for long-term care, they can handle that transition successfully,” says Bracken.
To that end, Bracken says, for some families, location is the most important factor in their selection. “Proximity to their loved one is important, so we start there. If there’s time, we recommend taking a tour to see how the facility is managed. You may also want to walk in unannounced to see how things are running.”
An in-person visit can be more revealing than reading an online review, notes Hilary Davidson, discharge planner and social worker at Phelps Hospital/Northwell Health. “I suggest to the families that we work with that they use their five senses when touring a nursing home. What are the sights and smells and sounds? Are they pleasant? Is the staff engaging? What you observe will tell you a lot about how the facility is managed.”
Here are more tips from Bracken, Davidson, and Hood on touring a nursing home:
First impressions count. Note what’s happening in the lobby when you walk in, says Davidson. “Is it chaotic? Orderly? Cheerful? Dreary? While lobbies are typically designed to give a good first impression, that may not always be the case.”
Review your needs before the tour. Before the tour even begins, sit down and speak with your tour guide—typically a marketing representative or the director of admissions. “We like to hear about your background, preferences, medical needs or any other helpful information before we start,” explains Hood. “That helps us customize the tour and ensure that you leave with the information you need.”
Ask questions. Bring a list of questions with you that are important for planning purposes and making your final decision, says Bracken. “As what services are covered by your insurance plans; ask what specialized treatments they offer. For example, some facilities specialize in post-amputation care. Other offer full-time respiratory therapy services, which you may need if you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).”
Davidson added, “Be specific. For example, if your loved one requires physical therapy, look at the layout of the unit. Is the PT gym central? How many days a week and times a day can they receive services? How far away are the elevators?”
Look for activity. When touring the residential units, check to see if people are engaged in activity, notes Davidson. “Are people interacting and moving? Is there a row of people sitting around in wheelchairs without anything to do? Look for a posted calendar of activities; you want to see a lot of options, not just playing Bingo.”
Visit again! One tour may not be enough for you to make such a big decision about where to place your loved one, explains Hood. “After our tour, we offer another opportunity to sit down to ask questions. We want to ensure visitors understand our philosophy of care, and how our staff carries out that philosophy in their daily care of our residents. We are always happy to answer any questions visitors think of after the tour, or schedule a second visit if necessary.”