When it comes to evaluating licensed skilled nursing homes there may appear to be many resources. “However,” says John E. Kasarda, Administrator, Little Brook Nursing Home, “the best, most credible and reliable sources for evaluating a skilled nursing home are not television referral services, government scoring systems, or internet review sites. The first criterion is the personal recommendations of references whose loved ones have been cared for by the skilled nursing home you are considering. Those personal recommendations can be from the resident, her family, doctor or parishioner. The second criterion for evaluating a skilled nursing home is on-site visits —some planned, others by surprise—where you can meet the staff who will care for your loved one. You can see, hear and smell the environment in which your loved one will live, as well as meet residents and speak with their visitors and ask their opinion about the home.”
Television referral services are provided by paying advertisers whose motives may not be aligned with your or your loved one’s needs. For example, they may attempt to steer you to facilities which are not close by or to services that may not be appropriate for the kind of care that your loved one needs. The same can be said of internet review sites whose analyses depend on reprocessed data, surveys and opinions which may not be independent, verified or even real! These sites too are funded, in part, by paying advertisers whose motives again may not be consistent with your or your loved one’s needs.
Furthermore, these sites and services source data that may be discredited or flawed, including but not limited to, government data. Some government data is typically not independently collected; that is, the data are self-reported by nursing homes and not verified against actual facts. And, several nursing homes were found to manipulate the system in order to get higher scores [see K. Thomas’ August, 24th 2014 article in The New York Times entitled “Medicare Star Ratings Allow Nursing Homes to Game the System” and K. Serrano’s recent January 25th 2015 Daily Record article entitled Who’s Watching Your Loved Ones? Nursing Home Ratings Don’t Tell the Whole Story].
Technology and data alone can never replace personal due diligence and talking with real people. This is why it is very important to visit several skilled nursing homes, several times to speak with as many references in person and on the phone. “If a nursing home is unwilling to provide multiple references,” says Mr. Kasarda, “quickly shy away from it no matter how pretty the facilities look or how high a ‘score’ they have received.” Ultimately, it is about the care that your loved one will receive, not a sparkling foyer chandelier, the synthetically perfumed air, or a high score. It is recommended that you take the time to visit at least three skilled nursing homes several times, minimally asking the following types of questions:
Skilled Staff: Do they have the licensed staff to provide the skilled services required? Is the staff responsive and caring?
Food: Does the food look appetizing? Would you eat it?
Activities: Are daily activities mentally stimulating and geared to help residents with their strength?
Environment: Find out if the environment is conducive to a loved one’s needs, safety, health and comfort levels.
Cleanliness: Go and observe residents in the nursing home. Are they clean and dressed nicely? Does the home smell pleasant?
Facility: Is the nursing home a single story building and easy to move around in for residents who are mobile?
Location: Is the nursing home peaceful and far from the noise, commotion and pollution of busy roadways?
Referrals: Talk to residents’ family members if they are present as another referral source. What do they like or dislike?
For a complete list of questions to consider and ask please go to:
Evaluating a skilled nursing home is not easy, especially because it involves a significant amount of time. But when it comes to ensuring the peace, comfort and safety of your loved one, you should do as is necessary. “Don’t be pressured to follow a hospital’s recommendation because ‘that’s where everyone goes’,” says Mr. Kasarda, “because you have a choice and the right to decide where you want to live and be cared for.” While the hospital may provide a list of skilled nursing homes in the area, you should ask your friends, family, doctors, pastors, neighbors and parishioners for a referral to a skilled nursing home with which they have had good experiences. Visit these skilled nursing homes—both planned and by surprise—as soon as possible and make an informed decision. “After all, a senior’s golden years should be about living in peace, happiness, dignity, comfort, safety and good health,” says Mr. Kasarda. “Your loved one deserves skilled care that is both excellent and comprehensive!”
Editor: Dr. JP Hampilos of Senior Care Focus, LBHI; Excerpts from an interview with John E. Kasarda, Administrator, Little Brook Nursing and Convalescent Home on two recent articles: Katie Thomas’ August, 24th 2014 article in The New York Times entitled “Medicare Star Ratings Allow Nursing Homes to Game the System” and K. Serrano’s January 25th 2015 article in the Daily Record entitled Who’s Watching Your Loved Ones? Nursing Home Ratings Don’t Tell the Whole Story”
Senior Care Focus, Issue No. 18, Spring 2015