If the doctor or other health care provider recommends that a nursing home setting is the best option, ask why he or she is making this recommendation at this time. Also ask why he or she thinks that returning home with help is not an option. Discuss the elder's abilities and needs at the present time and in the foreseeable future. Investigate and discuss all options that are available in your area. If the elder is coming from the hospital, ask to talk with the discharge planner or case manager about options and benefits coverage. Remember that you have choices, and your job is to be the advocate for yourself or your loved one.
Here are some ways to gather information about nursing homes to help you make decisions:
- Have an honest conversation with the elder about his or her preferences, before assistance is needed. Planning ahead helps the elder (with your help, if needed) make more informed choices. Every time there is a change in condition or a need for assistance, have another conversation to find out about his or her preferences under each new set of circumstances.
- Contact your Area Agency on Aging or the Eldercare Locator (www.eldercare.org or call 1-800-677-1116) for more information about the services available in your area.
- Contact your local ombudsman to learn more about the assisted living communities or nursing homes in your area. Every state has a long-term care ombudsman and there are almost 9,000 volunteer ombudsmen across the country who advocate for residents' rights and quality care, educate consumers and providers, resolve residents' complaints, and provide information to the public. Contact information for state and local long-term care ombudsmen can be found at www.theconsumervoice.org.
- Visit SNAPforSeniors for a database of senior housing communities in the U.S. It provides information about availability and locations of levels of care on a state-by-state basis. http://www.snapforseniors.com/
- Visit the website, Long-Term Care: You Decide. It has a number of tools your family can use to sort out what would be the best option for you or your loved one. http://ltc.hsr.umn.edu/define.html
- Visit Medicare's Nursing Home Compare website to get detailed information about every Medicare- and Medicaid-certified nursing home in the country. It includes the "Five-Star Quality Rating System." This site is also where you will get information about the latest government survey on each nursing home, as well as information about alternatives to nursing homes. Medicare also has a site to get detailed information about home health agencies: www.medicare.gov/HHCompare. http://www.medicare.gov/HomeHealthCompare/search.aspx
- Visit The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care website, the only national nonprofit organization exclusively representing consumers of long-term care. Download the "Consumer Guide to Choosing a Nursing Home" fact sheet. http://www.theconsumervoice.org/
After you have done some homework, visit several local nursing homes. Remember, no two homes are alike, and it is important to gather and compare information from a variety of sources. The next section will provide you with guidance on what to ask when you visit nursing homes.