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How to decide whether a nursing home is the right fit

Websites and organizations help patients and families choose the right facility.

September 28, 2009|Tammy Worth

Questions families should ask when meeting the director of a nursing home:

* Does the care meet the needs of your family member? Does the facility have proper medical services? Can residents personalize their rooms with photographs and other items? Are staff members interacting one-on-one with residents? Is the staff smiling and welcoming?

* Does the facility have adequate fire and safety systems? The most recent state inspection report will show if it had deficiencies related to fire drills, up-to-date manuals and policies, or expired fire extinguishers. A fire marshal report should also be posted at each facility.

* Does it have a wanderer alert? These devices are used to make sure a disoriented resident doesn't leave the residence.

* Does it have a pastoral care program of any kind? Such programs suggest the homes are connected to the community and that they value all dimensions of the residents' lives.

* Does it have a volunteer program and, if so, what do those volunteers do? These programs indicate "fresh air in the place."

* What is the policy on chemical and physical restraints? Obviously, the fewer the better.

* How frequently do patients get pressure ulcers? Such injuries occur when an individual stays in one position for too long and the skin in contact with the bed or other surface begins to break down. Again, the fewer the better. This is listed under a home's quality report on Nursing Home Compare.

* What is the medical direction model? This explains what kind of care the facility specializes in providing, i.e. subacute, Alzheimer's, for the developmentally disabled. Ideally, many of the patients at a facility would need similar kinds of care.

* What are the weight loss numbers like? All homes will have some, but they should not be substantial. This is listed under the quality report on Nursing Home Compare.

* Does the facility have a resident or family satisfaction survey, and if so, will they show you the results? Good facilities will be transparent.

Helpful tools in choosing a home:

* Nursing Home Compare offers a consumer guide to choosing a home at

* The AARP provides 10 tips for selecting a home at It also offers a nursing home checklist at

* And the National Citizen's Coalition for Quality Long-Term Care provides a consumer fact sheet on choosing long-term care at

* Additional information can be found at the California Assn. for Nursing Home Reform,, and National Citizen's Coalition for Nursing Home Reform,

State inspection records can be located at the California Department of Public Health,

And a nursing home rating system is located at the California HealthCare Foundation site at

-- Tammy Worth


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