Choosing A Nursing Home

When choosing a nursing home for your loved one, of course cost is a factor. But, there are many other things to consider as well. Here's some resources that can help.

-- By K. Gabriel Heiser, Attorney

With nursing homes costing anywhere from $3,500 to $10,000 per month (depending on your state), and with the average stay about 2 1/2 years, the total cost of a typical stay in a nursing home can be between $100,000 and $300,000. However, family members should not focus only on the cost but also on the care of their parent or spouse. How do you go about finding a good nursing home, one which will properly care for the emotional as well as physical and medical needs of your family member?

A good place to start would be the Consumer Reports Nursing Home Guide (you can find this online). This in-depth site is completely independent of the nursing home industry and can be relied on for giving you objective information. Here you can learn not only what to look for in evaluating nursing homes, but also review a state-by-state "Quality Monitor" that lists recommended homes and those to avoid. These lists are far from complete, but the general information on the site is very helpful.

Medicare itself has published a four-page checklist on its excellent website that you would take with you when visiting a nursing home. One of the most important items on the list is whether or not the facility is "Medicaid-certified." Most people don't realize that many nursing homes do not accept Medicaid; if you think you may be applying for Medicaid at some point, then you probably should start out placing your family member in a Medicaid-certified facility, so that once your private pay money stops you won't have to move your family member, which can be very traumatic.

Another great resource is the Nursing Home Inspector at, where for a small fee you can search their database of over 44,000 nursing homes and obtain detailed information about the performance and characteristics of every Medicare/Medicaid certified nursing home in the US.

Finally, you should check out the free reports available at MyZiva.Net claims to be a free, objective and easy-to-use nursing home resource for prospective residents, caregivers and healthcare professionals that can help you find and compare nursing homes. You simply enter the zip code of the area you are considering, and a comprehensive chart pops up from which you can link to reports on the facility's main focus, survey results, quality measures, and staffing. You can also check several facilities you are interested in and obtain a side-by-side comparison.

In all cases, you will have to follow-up any online research with phone calls to the facility and finally an in-person visit. Try to get a tour that takes you "behind the scenes." Does the staff look harried? Are the hallways cluttered? What about the food? You might consider having a meal there, yourself, with the residents. Bring your checklist and don't be shy about asking tough questions.

Moving a loved one to a nursing home can be an emotionally draining experience not just for the one having to move there, but for the entire family. A spouse of 65 years, separated for the first time; a parent who's always been there for you, that you now must take care of; the solid father and grandfather who now looks shriveled and worn--all these can exact an emotional toll on the family. Accordingly, you want to do your best job in locating a facility that you can feel confident about, and that will be a comfort and aid to your spouse or parent during the remaining years of their life. Hopefully the resources discussed above will assist you with that task.

A recent additional resource, The Baby Boomer's Guide to Nursing Homes, explains the many laws protecting nursing home residents and provides advice on obtaining the best nursing home care possible. It is intended for use by residents and their family members and friends, but also is a worthwhile reference for nursing home operators, attorneys, social workers, and others with a personal or professional interest in nursing home care.

For a different point of view on nursing home placement, see There's No Place Like A Nursing Home.

Selecting a nursing home for a loved family member can be a very difficult decision. However, once you are armed with the information from the above resources you should find this burden to be much less onerous. In any event, good luck!

K. Gabriel Heiser is an attorney with over 25 years experience in elder law and estate planning. Heiser is the author of “How to Protect Your Family's Assets from Devastating Nursing Home Costs: Medicaid Secrets,” an annually updated practical guide for the layperson. For more information about this book, visit Medicaid Secrets.

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Marquette, Michigan
I just want to thank you for this site. It answered my questions. I think many people that do research on the net take it for granted and when they find what they are looking for they forget "someone put time, money, etc into providing me with this information."

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