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How To Choose A Nursing Home

Armen Hareyan's picture

Selecting a nursing home facility is one of the most important decisions you may be asked to make, either for yourself or for a family member. Ideally, this decision would be made far in advance with adequate planning. Unfortunately, it is often made during a crisis, such as a severe illness or following surgery. Many people don't have any idea of how to begin their search or what they are really looking for in a nursing facility.

The first step is to make a list of nursing home facilities in the desired location. If you need a complete listing of all nursing facilities in Alabama, you may contact the Alabama Department of Public Health, Division of Health Care Facilities (334) 206-5075.

Before visiting any of the nursing home facilities on your list, you may wish to contact them by telephone. This could save you some time, since some facilities may not offer the type of care which the resident will require. Make a list of the name, address and phone number of those facilities that can meet the particular needs of your resident.

At those homes, ask if they have beds currently available for placement and ask to be put on their waiting list. Don't be surprised if you hear that many nursing home facilities have waiting lists ... placement waiting lists in Alabama's nursing facilities are very common. For your records, make sure you write down the facility name, the date that you called, and the name of the person with whom you spoke. Then you should...

Make an appointment with the administrator and request a complete tour of those homes in which you are interested. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Talk to residents, family members, staff and volunteers. Make a point to sample the food served to residents. Ask to see and make sure the nursing home facility and administrator have current licenses from the state. If they do not, you may be dealing with some type of boarding facility falsely claiming to be a nursing facility. Also, you will want to discuss payment options. The admissions director can help determine if you or your loved one qualifies for Medicaid, Medicare or other programs.

Of the items which you will want to consider and/or inquire about when you are considering nursing home facility options include the following:


* Do you feel welcome when you enter?
* Is there a window in every bedroom?
* Are there no more than four (4) beds in each room?
* Does each bed have a privacy curtain?
* Does each bed have a nurse call bell?
* Is there easy access to each bed?
* Is there adequate closet space?
* Is the facility clean and free from unpleasant odors?
* Are the hallways and rooms hazard free?
* Are the bathrooms convenient to the bedrooms?
* Is there a sink in each bathroom?
* Is there a nurse call bell to use in the bathroom?
* Are there hand grips near the toilets?
* Do showers and tubs have non-slip surfaces and hand grips?
* Is there outdoor furniture for residents?
* Are there walkways outside?
* Are visiting hours convenient?
* How are roommates selected?

Dining Room

* Is the dining room attractive?
* Are the tables and chairs comfortable?
* Is there adequate access for wheelchairs in the dining room?
* Is the food tasty and attractive?
* Are residents given enough time to eat?
* Do residents receive help eating if they need it?
* Are personal likes and dislikes taken into account when planning the menu?
* Is there a variety from meal to meal?
* Is food delivered to the rooms of residents unable to eat in the dining room?

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* Is there an activities room?
* Are activities tailored to the individual's needs and interests?
* Have arrangements been made for worship services?
* Are group and individual activities planned?
* Are outside trips available?
* Is there a social services worker available to assist residents and families?
* Does the facility have contacts with community groups, such as local schools, pet therapy programs or Scouts?


* Do staff members show interest in and affection for individual residents?
* Are staff members courteous and respectful?
* Do staff members know residents' names and take time to chat with them?
* Do staff members respond quickly to resident calls for assistance?
* Does the staff encourage family visits?
* Is the administrator available to answer questions, hear complaints or discuss problems?
* Is the resident happy with the location?
* Are barbers and beauticians available?


* Will family and friends be able to visit?
* How close is the nearest hospital?
* Is emergency transportation readily available if needed?
* What types of therapy programs are available?
* Does the facility have a description of resident rights and responsibilities posted?
* Does the facility have a resident council?
* Does the facility have a family council?
* Are there private areas for residents to meet with family, visitors or physicians?
* Is a physician available in an emergency? Are personal physicians allowed?
* Are residents and families involved in developing the resident's care plan?
* Are all services covered under the basic rate? If not, is a list of specific services not covered in the basic rate available?
* Is the general atmosphere welcoming?

If you are selecting a nursing facility for someone else, be sure to involve this person in the decision. Moving to a new home is difficult for anyone, but is often more difficult when one is ill and unsure of the move.

Be prepared to ease the transition by accompanying him or her on admission day. Also be ready to visit the new resident regularly and make sure other friends are willing to do so.

An Explanation of the Rights of Nursing Facility Residents

It is the goal of Alabama's nursing home facilities to promote and protect the rights of each of their residents. According to the Older American's Act, a federal law which was initially passed in 1965, each nursing facility resident has a right to a dignified existence, self-determination, and communications with and/or access to persons and services both inside and outside of the nursing home. Also included is the right to the individual's freedom of choice, the right to privacy and the right to voice grievances. Some of these resident rights include:

* the right to be treated with dignity, privacy, respect, and to live in a safe, clean, comfortable, and homelike environment
* the right to exercise their rights as citizens of the United States and of the State of Alabama, including the right to vote
* the right to be fully informed in writing of all facility services and charges for those services
* the right to be informed of their health status and the right to participate in the planning of their own care and treatment, the right to refuse medical treatment, including experimental research, and the right to formulate an advance directive
* the right to have their money and property protected
* the right to manage their financial affairs
* the right to know if they are eligible for Medicaid or Medicare and how to apply for coverage
* the right of freedom of choice to make their own decisions
* the right to privacy including accommodations, medical treatment, written and telephone communications, personal care, and meetings of family and resident groups, but this does not require the facility to provide a private room
* the right to retain and use personal possessions, as space permits
* the right to privacy and confidentiality of their medical and clinical records
* the right to an accessible grievance procedure that is easy to use
* the right to refuse to perform services for the facility unless they desire to do so and it is documented in the plan of care
* the right to choose the groups and activities in which they wish to participate
* the right to have guests visit and other personal communications
* the right to basic procedural safeguards on admission, transfer and discharge
* the right to get advance notice about a change in room or roommate, and to be told why such a change is needed
* the right to be informed in writing of the bed-hold policy for temporary absences from the facility
* the right to be free from physical restraints or psychoactive drugs administered for discipline or convenience, or not required to treat their medical symptoms
* the right to be free of verbal, mental, sexual, or physical abuse and involuntary seclusion
* the right to refuse a transfer to another room within the facility under certain circumstances
* the right to self-administer drugs if the interdisciplinary team has determined that this practice is safe
* the right to examine the results of the most recent Federal or State survey of the facility
* the right to be free of interference, coercion, discrimination, or reprisal from the facility in exercising these rights
* the right to be informed both orally and in writing of their rights and all the rules and regulations governing their conduct and responsibilities during their stay in the facility