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Savvy Senior

How to pick a nursing home

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Jim Miller is responsible for this content, which is not edited by the Wilson County News or
June 22, 2011 | 1,819 views | Post a comment

Dear Savvy Senior,

Can you give me some tips on picking a good nursing home for my 82-year-old father? He had a stroke last year and has been receiving care at home but it’s become too much to handle.

Overwhelmed Daughter

Dear Overwhelmed,

Choosing a nursing home for a loved one that provides quality care is an important and difficult decision that requires some homework. Here are some steps that can help you find a good nursing home and avoid a bad one.

Make a List: Start by contacting your Area Agency on Aging for a list of local nursing home facilities. Ideally, the facilities should be close to family members and friends who can visit often. Residents with frequent visitors usually get better care. The national Eldercare Locator (800-677-1116 or can direct you to your local aging agency.

Do Some Research: Every year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services collect data on more than 15,000 nursing homes throughout the country. Health inspection data, staffing and quality measures are combined to come up with an overall ranking system of one to five stars. To research the nursing homes in your area, go to and click on “Facilities and Doctors,” then on “Compare Nursing Homes.”

Call Your Ombudsman: This is a government official who investigates nursing home complaints and advocates for residents and their families. This person can help you find the latest health inspection reports, which are public information, on specific nursing homes, and can tell you which ones have had complaints or other problems. To find your local ombudsman, call your area aging agency or see

Call the Facilities: Once you’ve narrowed your search, call the nursing homes you’re interested in to find out if they have any vacancies, what they charge, and if they accept Medicaid -- most do.

Visit Your Top Choices: Be sure to visit more than once and at different times of the day and different days of the week. While you’re there, notice the cleanness and smell of the facility. Is it homey and inviting? Does the staff seem responsive and kind to its residents? Also be sure to taste the food, and talk to the residents and their family members, if available.

Upon arrival, ask for the nursing home administrator or other person of authority to give you a tour. Find out about staff screening (do they do background checks) and training procedures and what percentage of their staff leaves each year. Less than 30 percent annually is considered good. More than 50 percent is a red flag. To help you rate your visit, Medicare offers a handy checklist at

Paying for Care

With nursing home costs now averaging nearly $230 per day nationally, paying for long-term care is another area you may have questions about or need assistance with. Medicare only helps pay up to 100 days of “medically necessary” nursing home care, which must occur after a hospital stay. Most nursing home residents pay from personal money, long-term care insurance policies or, if they qualify, through Medicaid. Your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) is a good resource for long-term care financial counseling. To find a local SHIP counselor visit, or call 800-677-1116.

Savvy Tip: For more information, get Medicare’s booklet “Guide to Choosing a Nursing Home.” To receive a free copy via mail, call 800-633-4227, or you can read it online at

Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC “Today” show and author of The Savvy Senior book. Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit .
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