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O.C. NURSING HOMES: A SPECIAL REPORT

How to Choose

January 18, 1998

Selecting a nursing home is often a painful decision made during a crisis. The best advice from experts is to plan ahead and not wait until the last minute. Other tips:

* Narrow choices to three or four homes close to relatives or friends.

The local office of the state Department of Health Services has nursing home directories and surveys that detail facility track records. The local ombudsman can direct you to the proper type of home.

* Ask to see the latest government survey report.

Homes are legally required to have these on hand. Missing, incomplete or lengthy reports may be a red flag. Every operation has a license, even if there are problems, so don't bother checking that.

* Visit unannounced at different times of day.

Look, listen and smell. Even the nicest-looking facility may have problems. Wander and watch interaction between staff and residents. Staff should show a true interest in and affection for each resident. Meet with

the administrator, director of nursing and social services director. Speak with residents and their families.

* Observe staffers.

How are people helped in and out of beds and wheelchairs? How long does it take for call lights used by bed-bound residents to be answered? At mealtime, check how people who need assistance are fed. Daily activities must be posted. Stop by--are people

enjoying themselves?

* Check complaints, citations and surveys.

Examine several years of Department of Health Services records. Look for "quality of care," "quality of life" and "resident assessment" deficiencies. A good facility may have a few, but a picture of bigger problems will emerge for poor facilities. Read facilities' responses. Sometimes there is a legitimate

explanation or defense.

* After your relative moves in, visit and phone frequently.

If the relative loses weight rapidly, suffers unexplained injuries or is unhappy, consider another facility. There is often space available in other homes.

* Problems or complaints?

Volunteers for the county Council on Aging's ombudsman will work with you. For serious complaints, also contact the local Department of Health Services office.

RESOURCES

* California Department of Health Services, Licensing and Certification, Orange County district office. 2150 Towne Centre Place, Suite 210, Anaheim; (714)

456-0630. Has files on Orange County facilities only. For Los Angeles and Riverside counties and elsewhere, consult other district offices.

* O.C. Council on Aging Long-Term Care Ombudsman Services, 18552 MacArthur Blvd., Suite 425, Irvine; (714) 863-0323.

* California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform; (800) 474-1116, (415) 474-5171. Web site http://www.canhr.org lists nursing home track

records.

* Bet-Tdzek Legal Services-Nursing Home Advocate Projects, 145 S. Fairfax Ave., 200, Los Angeles;

(213) 939-0506.

* "The Inside Guide to America's Nursing Homes," a well-respected guide, but information in the 1998- 1999 edition is 3 years old. Serious problems at some facilities have been fixed, while others have worsened.

Source: California Department of Health Services; Researched by JANET WILSON and LEE ROMNEY / Los Angeles Times

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