Monday, December 7, 2009

Choosing Appropriate Senior Care

Evansville Courier & Press

One of life's landmarks is choosing a nursing home. It should be carefully thought out, but typically the decision is made when a loved one is about to be discharged from a hospital, often with hours notice. Even on that deadline it's possible to make a good choice.

Lee Bowman, medical reporter for Scripps Howard News Service, talked to many top experts on nursing homes to come up with some guidance.

They recommend starting with the U.S. Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services' Nursing Home Compare, a database that ranks 15,700 nursing facilities on a star system, from one star — "much below average" — to five stars — "much above average." Around 12 to 13 percent of nursing homes have the top rating; slightly more than 20 percent the lowest.

But the star system can be slightly misleading. In a study of the CMS database, Scripps Howard came up with a few general principles to help read between the ratings:

— Homes run by nonprofits, about two-thirds of all, generally score better than those run by for-profits and tend to have more nursing staff per patient.

— Homes with more than 100 beds tend to get lower scores in all categories.

Experts recommend finding a nursing home close to the patient's home because it's easier for family and friends to visit. He recommends meeting the home administrator and making several visits at different times to talk to staff and inspect public areas. Look for longevity among the key caregivers. If more than 25 percent of staff are recent hires, it can be a worrisome sign.

Plan early. Choosing a nursing home is difficult, but knowing the patient's preferences improves chances that the decision will be the right one.

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