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Six Questions You Should Ask Before Choosing a Nursing Home

“Use your nose.”

That used to be standard advice given to people searching for prospective nursing homes for themselves or their loved ones.

The sentiment behind the advice was to prompt people to use their olfactory sense to determine whether a facility was clean, practiced proper hygiene, etc., explains James Ellor, PhD, a professor in Baylor University’s School of Social Work and a gerontology expert.

But now – during a time when nursing facilities and hospitals pay extra for specially designed, odor-neutralizing waxes and paint – people need to be aware of more subtle clues to help them find the best facility.

During this year’s National Nursing Home Week from May 11 to 17, Ellor offers six questions people should ask while investigating – and before choosing – a nursing home.

1. What is the turnover rate for nurse’s aides?

“Nurse’s aides are the backbone of care,” Ellor says. “In some cases, we’ve seen an average turnover of three months. That’s not good.”

2. Does the patient’s doctor serve the facility?

“When you’re under the care of your physician, you’re going to get better treatment,” Ellor says. “Also, you need to assess the reputation of the medical director.”

3. What is the status of the facility’s recreation and social services?

In general, Ellor says, nonprofit facilities will have more chaplains, social workers, and recreation therapists on staff than their for-profit counterparts. He advises potential clients and their families to check whether the recreation therapist is certified.

“Some facilities will hire someone who can operate an arts-and-crafts system, but he or she is not a certified therapist,” Ellor says. “The ideal situation is for a certified recreation therapist to be supervised by an occupational therapist on staff.”

He also advises to look for recreation and therapy equipment, including stairs, therapy balls, and other rehabilitation tools. The presence of ample equipment can be evidence of a thriving rehabilitation and recreation program, he says.

4. What is the reputation of the nursing staff?

Ellor advises potential residents to do due diligence by checking the facility’s record with the state’s board of public health and by questioning a nursing home ombudsman.

“A nursing home ombudsman can often tell you whether a facility has had a number of problems,” he says. “The board of public health can tell you if the place has received any citations.”

5. Is the facility accredited?

Ellor says accreditation is not always a deal breaker, but accreditation shows that the facility has taken extra steps to comply with The Joint Commission, formerly known as the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals.

“A handful of nursing homes are accredited,” he says. “This is strictly voluntary on the part of the facility, but it shows that they’ve taken extra steps.”

6. How is the environment?

This question addresses everything from “Are there plants in the rooms and hallways?” to “Is the facility operated based on the needs of the staff or the needs of the patient?”

Of the latter example, Ellor says, “Are the patients awakened by the night shift in the wee hours of the morning to accommodate staffing schedules, or are they allowed to wake up on their own time?”

Ellor says organizations such as Pioneer Project and Eden Experiment monitor these types of things and can provide reliable resources for investigation purposes.

— Source: Baylor University