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Family Resources

What Is a Nursing Home?

A nursing home, also known as a skilled nursing facility, is a place for people who don’t need to be in a hospital but can no longer be cared for at home. This can include people with critical injuries or serious illnesses, or those needing care after surgery. Most nursing homes have aides and skilled nurses on hand 24 hours a day. Talk to your healthcare provider to find out if a nursing home is the best choice for you or a member of your family.

Nursing homes can be:

Hospital-like. This type of nursing home is often set up like a hospital. Members of the staff give medical care, as well as physical, speech, and occupational therapy. There can be a nurses’ station on each floor. As a rule, one or two people live in a room. A number of nursing homes will let couples live together. Things that make a room special, like family photos, are often welcome.

Household-like. These facilities are designed to be more like homes, and the day-to-day routine is not fixed. Teams of staff and residents try to create a relaxed feeling. Kitchens are often open to residents, decorations give a sense of home, and the staff is encouraged to develop relationships with residents.

Combination. Some nursing homes have a combination of hospital-like and household-like units.

Many nursing homes have visiting doctors who see their patients on site. Other nursing homes have patients visit the doctor’s office. Nursing homes sometimes have separate areas called “Special Care Units” for people with serious memory problems, like dementia.

Tips to Keep in Mind

If you need to go to a nursing home after a hospital stay, the hospital staff can help you find one that will provide the kind of care that’s best for you. Most hospitals have social workers who can help you with these decisions. If you are looking for a nursing home, ask your doctor’s office for some recommendations. Once you know what choices you have, it’s a good idea to:

Consider. What is important to you—nursing care, meals, physical therapy, a religious connection, hospice care, or Special Care Units for dementia patients? Do you want a place close to family and friends so they can easily visit?

Ask. Talk with friends, relatives, social workers, and religious groups to find out what places they suggest. Check with healthcare providers about which nursing homes they feel provide good care. Use their suggestions to make a list of homes that offer the types of services you want.

Call. Get in touch with each place on your list. Ask questions about how many people live there and what it costs. Find out about waiting lists.

Visit. Make plans to meet with the director and the nursing director. The Medicare Nursing Home Checklist at https://www.medicare.gov/nursinghomecompare/search.html has some good ideas to consider when visiting. For example, look for:

  • Medicare and Medicaid certification
  • Handicap access
  • Residents who look well cared for
  • Warm interaction between staff and residents

Talk. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. For example, you can ask the staff to explain any strong odors. Bad smells might indicate a problem; good ones might hide a problem. You might want to find out how long the director and heads of nursing, food, and social services departments have worked at the nursing home. If key members of the staff change often, that could mean there’s something wrong.

Visit again. Make a second visit without calling ahead. Try another day of the week or time of day so you will meet other staff members and see different activities. Stop by at mealtime. Is the dining room attractive and clean? Does the food look tempting?

Understand. Once you select a nursing home, carefully read the contract. Question the director or assistant director about anything you don’t understand. Ask a good friend or family member to read over the contract before you sign it.

Do Nursing Homes Have to Meet Standards?

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) requires each State to inspect any nursing home that gets money from the government. Homes that don’t pass inspection are not certified. Ask to see the current inspection report and certification of any nursing home you are considering. Visitwww.medicare.gov for more information.