10 things to look for when picking a nursing home

  • Do your research before choosing a nursing home for an elderly relative.

    Do your research before choosing a nursing home for an elderly relative. Thinkstock photo

  • Teri Dreher

    Teri Dreher

By Teri Dreher
Special to the Daily Herald
Posted10/7/2017 7:42 AM

Having to choose a nursing home for a loved one is a daunting task. It's an emotionally difficult time, and figuring out the financial piece can be overwhelming in itself.

Beyond that, it's critical to pick a quality facility where your loved one will be happy and receive great care. So plan on visiting multiple facilities and taking your time there.


Be observant. Be unapologetic about asking questions. And be sure to do your background research.

In addition, look for these 10 signs that a nursing home is a quality choice:

1. High Medicare ratings

Did you know you can find objective Medicare ratings of more than 15,000 nursing homes on Medicare.gov/nursinghomecompare? You'll find data regarding health inspections, staffing levels and quality of care, and it's easy to compare facilities.

2. Few state-recorded complaints

Your state's department of health should keep a published record of formal complaints lodged against specific nursing homes, and they can be very insightful. In Illinois, visit www.dph.illinois.gov.

3. Low staff turnover rates & patient/staff ratios

Low turnover rates indicate a happy, experienced staff, and the lower the ratio of patients to staff members, the more personalized care patients receive. Ask the nursing home to provide these figures.

by signing up you agree to our terms of service

4. Low infection rates

Nursing homes should also be able to provide historic infection rates. (I also count the isolation carts I see during a visit. Because they hold supplies that reduce the spread of infection, they're a good indicator of how rigorously a nursing home attends to this.)

5. Stable, experienced leadership

As a rule of thumb, you'd like to see that the director of nursing and executive director have been in their roles for at least three years. Experienced leadership is a good sign that the facility's stakeholders are satisfied with how operations are run. If there has been a recent change of management, ask why.

6. A quality rehabilitation staff/PT department

Look for a dedicated in-house rehab team versus a contracted provider. Find out who conducts most of the therapy sessions: therapists or therapy techs. The more contact with an actual PT, the better. Also, ask how many sessions per day or week the patient would receive.

7. Praise from families of long-term patients

You can ask the nursing home for the names of some families you can talk to, and you can also research reviews online. But if you have the opportunity to chat with some families of patients during your visit, by all means do so. Their feedback will be invaluable.


8. Healthy, delicious food and trained chef oversight

Having delicious meals to look forward to is very important to nursing home patients. Scope out a menu and by all means, sample the food during your visit. Look for a clean, cheerful dining area and oversight by a professional chef.

9. A family counsel group

A good nursing home is always looking for ways to improve. The presence of a family counsel -- made up of relatives of patients -- means there is a process in place for providing feedback, making suggestions and raising care issues.

10. Warm staff/patient interactions

While making your nursing home visits, pay close attention to the way staff and patients behave with each other. Are people smiling? Chatting? Are there warm spontaneous interactions between staff and patients? If you feel good in an environment, chances are your loved one will, too.

In short, picking a good nursing home is part research, part observation and part instinct. Do your legwork, and do right by your loved one!

• Teri Dreher, RN, CCRN, iRNPA, is an award-winning RN patient advocate and a pioneer in the growing field of private patient advocacy. A critical care nurse for more than 30 years, today she is the founder of NShore Patient Advocates, the largest advocacy agency in the area. She recently published her first book, "Patient Advocacy Matters." www.NorthShoreRN.com.

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.