Dear P.N.: Rule No. 1 for picking a nursing home: If the halls reek of urine, or an overpowering dose of air freshener barely covers the smell of something worse, just turn around and walk out. This is no place to put your mother or anyone else you care about.
Check out a nursing home the way you would comparison shop for a car, a pair of running shoes, a refrigerator or anything else. Don’t wait until the hospital calls, and the harried social worker says, we are discharging your mother tomorrow, and here is a list of local nursing homes. Do some planning if you have an aged and frail relative. A fall, a stroke or a sudden failure of memory will rob a person of the capacity for living independently.
Here are a few of the things to look for:
• Find several places within easy driving distance. You’ve got to visit often so the staff knows someone outside is interested in the patient.
• Make an unannounced visit. Just tell the administrator you have a family member who might be a potential customer and that you want to check out several facilities.
• Walk around and talk to a few residents. Are they out of their rooms, talking to each other and the staff? Do they seem happy and comfortable? Talk to staff members. Do they seem relaxed, or stressed and overworked? Remember, the hands-on care is delivered by nursing aides. If they are caring and compassionate–and if they don’t have too many patients to wash or feed on a shift–the nursing home will provide decent care.
• Look for a copy of the most recent state inspection report. It must be posted in a public place. If facility officials won’t show it to you or they tell you it is not immediately available, walk out.
• Find out what activities are available to give the residents mental and physical exercise. Even 90-year-old nursing home residents can improve their muscle tone and agility with weightlifting programs.
• There should be special rooms and outdoor areas for social activities, chatting, playing cards or reading.
• And most important, listen to your intuition, your gut, your heart. Is this a place where you would be willing to go yourself?
Good sources of information include:
• California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform. Call (800) 474-1116, or look it up on the Web at http://www.canhr.org.
The Web site has a list of every licensed nursing home in California, and the total number of deficiencies and citations listed in state inspections, as well as the number of complaints by the public against the facility. The group also provides counseling on Medi-Cal, the program that pays for nursing home costs for the poor.