Deciding to opt for nursing home care is a difficult experience for the patient and for the family. Ideally, a nursing home should be a place that combines the benefits of modern health care with the amenities of a home-like atmosphere. A nursing home that is sterile and hospital-like may suit some people but probably not most, likewise a nursing home whose staff is pleasant but whose facilities are in poor repair. Most experts in nursing care advise people to explore the options before the need arises, but few people plan ahead to the day when they may need long-term care.
The Medicare web site (www.medicare.gov) includes a useful comparison tool called Nursing Home Compare. This tool provides information on Medicare- and Medicaid-certified nursing homes throughout the United States. Visitors can get information on nursing homes by geographic region, community, or ZIP code. They can compare facilities, patient-to-staff ratio, various programs offered within each home, and so forth.
While tools such as Nursing Home Compare can break down general information about nursing homes, they cannot provide information such as whether a particular facility met only the minimum standards or exceeded all standards. Experts recommend that the patient (if possible) and the family members involved in the decision-making process visit several nursing homes before making a choice. This is important because nursing home care is usually long-term, and also because it is particularly traumatic for elderly, infirm people to have to move. Moving from one nursing home to another is physically and emotionally taxing for patients and families.
Often, the decision to move to a nursing home is one that must be made quickly—often, the patient is sent to a nursing home after a hospital stay and must be transferred immediately after being discharged from the hospital. In some cases it may be better to pay for a longer stay in the hospital or arrange for temporary home care instead of taking the first available nursing home even if it seems less than ideal.