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How to Choose a Quality Nursing Home During a Pandemic

Young care-giver holding the hand of an elderly woman in a wheelchair.

Dear Savvy Senior,

Can you give me some tips on how to pick a good nursing home in the COVID era? My mother had a stroke a while back and canít use her legs any longer. Iíve been taking care of her at home, but her health has declined to the point that I absolutely canít do it any longer.

--Need Help

Dear Need,
COVID-19 has hit nursing homes hard over the past year, making it extremely difficult for people attempting to choose a nursing home during this time.

While many eldercare experts suggest avoiding nursing homes during the pandemic if at all possible, some families, like yours, find themselves in difficult situations needing long-term or rehabilitative care for their elder loved one now.

To help you find a good nursing home in the COVID era, and avoid a bad one, here are some steps to follow.

Make a list: There are several sources you can turn to for referrals to top nursing homes in your area including your momís doctor or nearby hospital discharge planner; friends or neighbors who may have had a loved one in a nursing home; and online at Medicareís nursing home compare tool at Medicare.gov/care-compare. This tool will not only help you locate nursing homes in your area, it also provides a 5-star rating system on recent health inspections, staffing, quality of care, and overall rating.

Also keep in mind that itís always best to choose a nursing home thatís close to family members and friends who can check in often, because residents with frequent visitors usually get better care.

Do some research: To research the nursing homes on your list, put a call into your long-term care ombudsman. This is a government official who investigates nursing home complaints and advocates for residents and their families. This person can tell you which nursing homes have had complaints or problems in the past. To find your local ombudsman, call your area aging agency (800-677-1116) or visit LTCombudsman.org.

You should also visit the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services website (data.cms.gov), which provides updated data on U.S. nursing home reported COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Contact the nursing homes: Once youíve identified a few good nursing homes, call them to see if they have any vacancies, what they charge, and if they accept Medicaid.

Also, find out their staff-to-patient ratio and staff turnover rate; their COVID infection-control procedures; the percentage of residents and staff that have been vaccinated for COVID; and their facility visitation policy.

If visitor restrictions are in place, see if they offer smartphone, tablet or laptop technology assistance so you can have Facetime, Zoom or Skype video calls with your mom.

Tour your top choices: The best way to evaluate a nursing home is to visit it in person, but because of COVID, some facilities may offer limited or virtual tours only. To help you evaluate and rate a facility, Medicare offers a terrific checklist of questions that you can print at Medicare.gov/NursingHomeCompare/Checklist.pdf.

Paying for Care
With nursing home costs now averaging $255 per day nationally for a semi-private room and nearly $290 for a private room, paying for care is another area you may have questions about or need assistance with. Medicare only helps pay up to 100 days of rehabilitative nursing home care, which must occur after a hospital stay of at least three days.

Most nursing home residents pay for care from either personal savings, a long-term care insurance policy, or through Medicaid once their savings are depleted.

The National Clearinghouse for Long-Term Care Information website (LongTermCare.acl.gov) is a good resource that can help you understand and research your financial options. You can also get help from your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP), which provides free counseling on all Medicare and Medicaid issues. To find a local SHIP counselor visit ShiptaCenter.org or call 877-839-2675.

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