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How can I tell if a nursing home provides high-quality care?

You may have heard horror stories about the quality of nursing home care. However, there are good nursing homes as well as bad ones. Here are some points to consider when evaluating nursing home care:

  • The quality of health care: Make sure that the nursing home is certified by the state. Ask about the credentials and training of the staff, including doctors, nurses, and aides. Can residents see their own doctors, or must they see the staff physician? Do they have access to dentists, eye doctors, and other specialists? Does the facility have clear procedures that it follows in medical emergencies?
  • The facility's appearance: The nursing home should be clean and well maintained. A bad smell may indicate the staff is too busy or uncaring to help residents to the bathroom or to change clothes. Rooms and public areas should be comfortable. The dining room and kitchen should be clean, and the food should be hot and appetizing.
  • Safety and security: Ask when the facility was built and/or updated. In general, the newer the building, the more fire-resistant it will be due to changes in building codes. Look for safety features such as wide hallways, doors that unlock from the inside, handrails, and grab bars.
  • Resident/staff ratio and interaction: Find out how the nursing home complies with state and federal government regulations such as patient/staff ratio and training. Notice how staff members treat residents. Do they generally seem caring? Distracted? Are a lot of residents sitting around in common areas doing nothing, or are there stimulating activities going on?

A checklist you can use to evaluate a nursing home can be found at the website of the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging (www.aahsa.org).