Many of us first learn about nursing homes after a loved one has endured a significant unexpected medical trauma and has been hospitalized. Selecting a nursing home is rarely something that is planned in advance. As such, Medicare created a Five-Star rating system for nursing homes to help you understand the quality of each nursing home.
As a matter of fact, when your loved one is going to be discharged from the hospital and it is determined that he/she is not able to return home either for a short time or indefinitely, the hospital has people that are called discharge planners that find a nursing home that will take your loved one. All of this happens very quickly so you are not given time to investigate and evaluate the nursing homes that are available. Thus you will find the Five-Star rating system beneficial. However, I want you to understand how the system works…
There are three factors that Medicare uses in the evaluation process:
- The inspection results from the past three years which includes the number of complaint surveys and follow-up inspections
- The amount of nursing staff
- The quality measures of care which includes pressure ulcers (bed soars), falls with significant injury, reports of pain, and the number of people who receive antipsychotic medications
While the rating system is a good first start when finding a nursing home for your loved one, it can be misleading. For example, the amount of nursing staff is gathered over a two-week period every year. The nursing home may have more staff during those two weeks than they have during the other fifty weeks of the year.
The quality measures that may be acceptable to the inspector may not be acceptable for your loved one. None of us want our loved ones to have bed soars, be injured due to a fall, or have to repeatedly report pain. So a nursing home could have a high quality rating while your loved one has been suffering.
Medicare’s Five-Star system is certainly a place to start learning about the nursing homes in your area, but you can’t stop there if you want to find good care for the ones you love. You can start by going to Medicare.gov and click on the “Quality, planning, & compare tools” blue button in the bottom left corner. You will find a wealth of information about nursing homes and guides to choosing a nursing home.
Once you are armed with all of this information, you will want to visit local nursing homes. Ask for a tour; watch how the staff interacts with the patients. If the staff knows the patients’ names and chats with them while they are performing their duties that is a good sign. Look at the faces of the staff. Do they look unhappy? If so, is that who you want your sick loved one to be relying on? Take note of the smell and cleanliness of the facility. Listen for unanswered alarms or calls. Ask residents and family members how they enjoy the food and what quality of care they have received. If physical rehabilitation is needed, check out the rehab center and talk with the physical therapists.
Choosing a nursing home is a difficult task that is usually required at a traumatic time. The level of care that your loved one receives in a nursing home can have a profound impact on the remainder of their life. Become an informed consumer to help protect the ones you love.