Shopping for a Nursing Home

Making the decision to transfer your loved one to a nursing home is not an easy one. With that in mind, choosing the facility should also not be a quick decision. So let’s look at some things you can do to ensure your loved one is getting the best care and attention possible when you are in the middle of the decision-making process.

There are three ways that a nursing home can be set up: they can be hospital-like, household-like, or a combination of the two. Let’s briefly look at each of these in more detail.

Hospital-like: This type of facility is normally set up like a hospital. Staff members provide medical care, along with physical, speech, and occupational therapy to residents. There may be a nurse’s station on each floor, and as a rule, one or two people live in each room. Some will also let couples stay together, and things that make a room more personal, such as family pictures, are often welcomed.

Household-like: These are designed to look and feel more like homes, and they do not have a fixed daily routine. Teams consisting of both staff and residents work together to create a relaxed feeling. Kitchens are usually open for residents, decorations provide a feeling of home, and staff are encouraged to develop relationships among the residents.

Combination: Some facilities have a combination of hospital-like and household-like units. Most nursing facilities will have visiting doctors who see patients on-site; others may have residents go to the doctor’s office, and some even have separate areas called “Special Care Units” for those with serious memory issues, like dementia.

If you or a loved one needs a nursing home after a hospital stay, the hospital staff will assist you in finding one that will give you the care that best suits your individual needs, and many also have social workers that can help in making these decisions. You may also ask your doctor’s office for nursing home recommendations. But once you have some choices, you should keep the following tips in mind:

Consider: What type of services are important to you—nursing care, meals, physical therapy, religious connections, hospice care, or Special Care Units for dementia patients? Would you like a place close to family and friends so they can visit you easily?

Ask: Speak with friends, relatives, social workers, and religious groups to get suggestions. You can also check with healthcare providers to see which facilities they believe give the best care. Take their suggestions and make a list of homes that offer the services you’re looking for.

Call: Contact the places on your list. Inquire about the cost of the facility and the number of people living there. Also make sure to find out about waiting lists.

Visit: Make plans to visit the facilities. Meet with the director and nursing director. The Medicare Nursing Home Checklist ( has some really good ideas to keep in mind when visiting, such as:

  • Medicare and Medicaid certification
  • Handicap access
  • Residents who look well cared for
  • Warm interaction between staff and residents

Talk: Ask questions! For instance, you can ask staff to explain any strong smells. Bad smells may be an indicator of a problem; good ones may hide one. You might want to see how long the director and heads of nursing, food, and social services have worked there. If key staff members change often, something might be wrong.

Visit again: Make an impromptu visit. Try a different day or time of the week so you can meet other staff and see different activities. Stop by during mealtime. Is the dining room clean and attractive? Does the food look good?

Understand: Make sure to carefully read the contract once you’ve made a decision. Ask questions about anything you don’t understand, and ask a friend or family member to read over the contract as well before signing it.

So there you have it; some quick tips that you can use to help you make the best decision possible for yourself or your loved one. After you’ve done your research, the decision should be able to come much easier.