By Ava Emory, Eckerd Living Center
While tools like Nursing Home Compare, a website published by Medicare that ranks nursing homes by star level, is a great resource – it isn’t always comparing apples to apples. Standards of care vary across state lines – the 4-star facility in Georgia could be a 2-star facility in North Carolina. Age and illnesses of the patients an area serves can also influence outcomes, and whether or not a patient and family comes back again. Facilities that specialize in short-term rehabilitation for hip and knee replacements will have better outcomes than a nursing home where most residents are 80 years old or older and cannot live at home alone any longer.
The best way to choose a skilled nursing facility is to ask around – ask your friends, neighbors or church folk. They will tell you the good experiences and the bad; the pitfalls and the perks. They will tell personal stories of their loved ones or recount tales told by friends of friends. Do keep in mind that some have unrealistic expectations of one-to-one care or a complete recovery that just isn’t in the cards. But you should be able to eliminate a few, if you don’t come out with a clear winner.
Next: visit. Make an appointment with the admissions coordinator so that someone is there to answer your questions and ensure that you see everything. You can also visit when they’re not expecting you. A good time would be a weekend when the management team might not be expecting it. While you may get stopped at the front desk, simply explaining that you’re thinking of admitting your mother/father/husband/loved one and that you’d like to look around will gain you entry. They may scramble to find a tour guide, but you’ll be able to see how things are running.
Be sure to notice how the staff interact with the residents. Are they smiling? Does anyone smile at you? Is the overall environment clean and tidy? While some times might not be as calm as others, generally, the environment should be interactive and feel inviting. There should be different places to visit quietly, meet as a group or get some sunshine. But what you’re really looking for when you visit is an indication of the care being provided – not the décor of the lobby, so don’t discount the older facility for the new construction. And if you see a friendly looking family member and visitor, ask them a few questions while you’re there.
People usually choose a particular nursing home for ease of access, meaning families choose one close by so they can visit often. This may be important for an elderly spouse who intends to visit or drive there daily, but you should never feel like you have to move in with the patient in order to ensure the care is adequate. If it’s the right place, you’ll know your loved one is in good hands as you drive away.
Ava Emory, RN-C, LNHA, is an administrator at Eckerd Living Center at Highlands-Cashiers Hospital.
Eckerd Living Center (ELC) is an 80-bed skilled nursing facility at Highlands-Cashiers Hospital. ELC at Highlands-Cashiers Hospital, a part of Mission Health, has earned a 5-star rating from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Eckerd Living Center is the only 5-star skilled nursing facility in the six westernmost counties of North Carolina. Additionally, ELC is one of 85 5-star facilities out of the total 429 facilities in North Carolina, putting it in the top 19 percent. Learn more about Highlands-Cashiers Hospital at missionhealth.org/highlandscashiers.