Jim Miller, “Savvy Senior” Columnist, Tells a Reader How to Choose a Quality Nursing Home During a Pandemic
We frequently find ourselves checking out a website called the Savvy Senior for news articles and other helpful tidbits aimed at retirees and their families. The creator of that site, Jim Miller, is a senior advocate and also a newspaper columnist who answers readers’ questions. In this column that appeared last spring in the Daily Oklahoman Miller takes on a topic that is no doubt on the minds of many families. With all the restrictions and limitations still in place due to the lingering COVID pandemic, how is it possible to choose the right nursing home?
While aging in place is the preference of most seniors, there are circumstances in which skilled nursing care is the only viable option. These tips and insights can help you make the right choice.
Pandemic Makes Evaluating Nursing Homes a Major Challenge
In the Daily Oklahoman column, the reader asks for some tips on how to pick a good nursing home in the COVID-19 era. “My mother had a stroke a while back and can’t use her legs any longer,” the reader says. “I’ve been taking care of her at home, but her health has declined to the point that I absolutely can’t do it any longer.”
“COVID-19 has hit nursing homes hard over the past [two years],” Miller acknowledges, “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.”
A Geriatric Care Manager Can Save Time and Help in a “Care Crisis”
Miller goes on to offer several tips, which we’ll share in a moment. But interestingly, he doesn’t suggest a step that we at AgingOptions think can save families a lot of time, trouble, and confusion: consulting a geriatric care manager or other expert in senior housing. The right consultant can not only help steer you to long-term care facilities that best meet your loved one’s needs, but they can also help evaluate your situation to see whether in-home care is in fact the best option.
The other advantage of consulting a senior care advisor is that they can help you decide when time is of the essence and you need to act quickly. It’s always best to plan ahead, but a health crisis can sometimes occur which requires you to act fast, without adequate time to do a lot of research. Care managers can be indispensable at such times. Contact us at AgingOptions and let us put you in touch with the right geriatric care manager to meet your family’s needs.
Meanwhile, let’s take a look at the steps Jim Miller suggests you follow in your nursing home search process.
Step One: Make a List of Facilities to Consider
“There are several sources you can turn to for referrals to top nursing homes in your area,” writes Miller. These include your loved one’s physician, the discharge planner at your nearest hospital, or friends or neighbors who may have had a loved one in a nursing home. There is also Medicare’s nursing home comparison tool, often referred to as Care Compare, which lets you search nursing homes by zip code and provides a 5-star rating system based on recent health inspections, staffing, quality of care and overall rating.
Miller adds that proximity is important. “Keep in mind that it’s always best to choose a nursing home that’s close to family members and friends who can check in often, because residents with frequent visitors usually get better care,” he says. We agree: the farther away a loved one is, the less frequent those precious visits (especially now that COVID restrictions are slowly being lifted) are likely to become.
Step Two: Do Some Research
Miller suggests that a quick way to research the nursing homes on your list is to call the long-term care ombudsman nearest you. “This is a government official who investigates nursing home complaints and advocates for residents and their families,” he writes. “This person can tell you which nursing homes have had complaints or problems in the past.”
This helpful website includes an interactive map listing every long-term care ombudsman, state by state. We were surprised to discover that there are 13 of these officials listed in Washington State alone (the home state of AgingOptions). You can also find updated data on which U.S. nursing homes have reported COVID-19 cases and deaths at this site maintained by CMS (the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services).
Step Three: Making Contact with the Nursing Homes
The third step is self-evident: start making phone calls. “Once you’ve identified a few good nursing homes, call them to see if they have any vacancies, what they charge, and if they accept Medicaid,” says Miller. He says this is also the time to ask more detailed questions.
“Also, find out their staff-to-patient ratio and staff turnover rate; their COVID-19 infection-control procedures; the percentage of residents and staff that have been vaccinated for COVID-19; and their facility visitation policy.” You can also ask what visitor restrictions are in place and whether they offer technology that enables video calls with your loved one.
His advice seems all well and good but, in our experience, the first person you may be talking with on the phone could be a salesperson in the marketing department – and you might not be getting the real story. Here again, you will probably get more objective information more quickly by consulting with a geriatric care manager.
Step Four: Take the Tour of Your Top Choices:
The best way to evaluate a nursing home is to visit it in person, but because of COVID-19, some facilities may offer limited tour options. If you can’t visit in person, online tours may be your best alternative
Don’t Overlook the Biggest Question: Cost
“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,” Miller writes. Many people are surprised to learn that Medicare will not be of much help: it only pays for a limited stay (up to 100 days) in a rehabilitative nursing home, and then only after a qualifying hospital stay.
“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,” says Miller. Your loved one may also qualify for benefits through the Veterans Administration.
This comprehensive website will help you access free state-by-state counseling on all Medicare and Medicaid issues through the State Health Insurance Counseling and Assistance Programs. There’s a website plus a toll-free number listed for counselors in every state plus several territories and the District of Columbia. As always, if we at AgingOptions can assist in any way, give us a call – we’re here to help.
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(originally reported at www.oklahoman.com)