Choosing the Right Nursing Home

By Martha C. Brown, CELA

When a loved one of any age requires the round-the-clock care of a nursing home, it’s important to select one that fulfills both their medical and social needs. Each facility has its own culture, and since this will be your family member’s home, the environment should be a welcoming fit.

Look for a nursing home as close as possible to relatives and friends, since frequent visitors are important to quality of life. Check reports from certifying agencies and get references. As you whittle down your list, visit the top contenders at various times, noting how well staffed they are on weekends and after 7:00 p.m.

Talk to caregivers and notice how they interact with residents. Does it appear that they’ve developed close bonds? Try to determine how much employee turnover there is, which will affect the ability to maintain relationships. Look for a strong administrator, who won’t let problems fester, and ask how care plans are developed.

Food matters. Is your child a picky eater? Is your mother a vegetarian? Be sure there are choices for each meal and that your loved one’s dietary needs and preferences will be met.

If religion is an important part of your family member’s life, ask about services and who conducts them. And learn about the social calendar. What types of events do they arrange and how often? One of the nursing homes in St. Louis, where I practice, has worked closely with a multiple sclerosis advocacy group to provide age-appropriate activities for a younger population.

Be sure that you understand how charges are determined. Given the high cost of long-term care, many nursing home residents rely upon Medicaid to cover their expenses. It’s a common misperception that the quality of services may be influenced by dependence on government benefits, but the care staff has no knowledge of what takes place in the accounting department. What may be affected is access to a specific facility, since many nursing homes have guidelines concerning the number of “Medicaid beds” they offer. Given that Medicaid is a means-tested benefit, families should consult a special needs attorney to protect assets while establishing eligibility.

Rights of Residents

The Nursing Home Reform Law, which applies to all facilities receiving Medicare or Medicaid funds, protects residents’ rights to self-determination and dignity and requires each state to maintain a long-term care ombudsman program.

Adult residents with appropriate capacity have the right to control their own schedules, receive visitors, choose their activities, and control their medical treatment. Parents, guardians and health care proxies should communicate frequently with nursing home staff to ensure that their instructions concerning treatments and lifestyle are followed.

Other important rights include:

  • privacy and confidentiality.
  • not being moved to a different room or facility without a chance to appeal and evidence that the change will benefit them or is required for the health needs of others.
  • freedom from reprisal for exercising their right to communicate grievances;
  • ongoing communication in their own language.
  • freedom from abuse, including corporal punishment, physical and chemical restraints and involuntary seclusion. Antipsychotics and sedatives must be physician-prescribed, in writing, for limited periods only.

When You Disagree

Disputes can arise from a wide range of circumstances— an inconsiderate roommate, dissatisfaction with food or the quality of health care. In St. Louis, volunteer ombudsmen, who are onsite several days a week, are the logical first place to turn. Involving them as soon as possible often prevents a problem from worsening.

But if the ombudsman is offsite, there are other paths to consider before bringing the issue to an outside party.

  • Begin by speaking to the on-duty staff. You may find that they share your concerns and can use your input to improve a situation that has already caught their attention.
  • If the problem persists, discuss it with a supervisor or the nursing home administrator. They may be unaware of the problem and will hopefully be grateful for an opportunity to take steps to prevent the potential loss of residents.
  • If necessary, ask the offsite ombudsman to intercede.
  • You may wish to hire a care manager to advise you and intervene with the staff. As objective third parties with extensive experience in nursing home operations, state and federal law, and industry norms, a care manager can counsel you on what can be accomplished. Their opinions are generally respected by nursing home professionals, who realize that their findings weigh heavily should a case ever go to court.
  • Violations of resident rights according to the Nursing Home Reform Law should be reported to your state’s licensing agency. This is likely to result in quick action, since the facility could be subjected to an in-depth audit and possible loss of its license.
  • If all else fails, you may wish to hire a special needs attorney in order to compel the facility to respect its legal obligations. At that point, however, given what is likely to be escalating unpleasantness, you may choose to move your family member to another nursing home.

While most individuals and their families would prefer in-home care, this is not always an option. But with careful research, ongoing communication with staff, and a readiness to advocate, you can ensure that your loved one receives the medical care they need in safe and congenial surroundings.



  1. Wendy Cartright November 4, 2015 at 9:52 pm

    This is a great post about choosing the right nursing home. I like that you mentioned the rights of the residents. I think it is so important for the elderly to still be able to make their own decisions while living in a nursing home. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Derek Mcdoogle September 3, 2016 at 1:56 am

    You mentioned that when a loved one of any age require the round-the-clock care of a nursing home, it’s important to select one that fulfills both their medical and social needs. Do nursing homes offer different types of living arrangements depending on the person’s needs? My mom just had a birthday and she has been having some trouble taking care of herself lately. Finding a reputable nursing home could be the best thing for her.

    • Martha Brown September 6, 2016 at 2:41 pm


      There are many different models of care available to elders. One model is the memory care unit which provides a safe environment for those with memory issues who tend to wander and require constant supervision. Another option is assisted living. Both of these options use the home model of care rather than a medical model of care. Skilled nursing homes use a medical model of care which many people who have memory issues do not require.

      I recommend you investigate the different models of care in your community. By doing so you can find the right fit for your mother. The right fit is important to maximize these last years of your mother’s life.

  3. Olivia Nelson October 19, 2016 at 11:13 pm

    I agree that you should look for a nursing home that is close to relatives and family. I would imagine that if you are close by it would mean that your loved one would get more visits. I’m looking for a home to put my parents in so we’ll have to find one close to us or to other relatives.

  4. Cindy Tesler December 9, 2016 at 6:43 pm

    I liked your tip to choose a nursing home as close as possible to friends and family. More specific, you said that frequent visitors are an important quality of life. I think it’s a good idea to choose a nursing home that has a high staffing ratio.

  5. Finley Moreira June 29, 2017 at 7:49 pm

    I’ve been looking at an assisted living center for my mother-in-law now that her health is declining fast. Your suggestion to visit the facility and speak with caregivers is a great idea I think. It would give me the opportunity to determine if the staff is helpful and friendly enough to entrust my mother-in-law’s care to them.

  6. barbera peters September 27, 2017 at 1:48 pm

    I have been trying to decide on a place to move my grandmother so that she can get the full time care she needs. You mentioned that talking to caregivers and seeing how they interact in nursing homes is a great way to see what kind of place you want to choose. Thank you for the great tips about choosing a nursing home.

  7. Theodore Winston October 31, 2017 at 6:51 pm

    This has been the hardest decision that I and my wife made since after we got married; check my mother in a nursing home. After my dad passed away several years ago, my mom has lived on her own with the usual visit from us, her kids. But now that she’s getting older and frailer, we (including my siblings) have decided that placing my mom under the care of professionals would benefit my mom in many ways. Naturally, we wanted to make sure that we only choose the best nursing home for her, to attend to her immediate needs, and so she wouldn’t feel so alone.

  8. Millie Hue January 31, 2019 at 12:35 am

    It’s great to know that the residents will have the right to choose their schedules and routines. I will share this information with my best friend to give them an idea when they send their grandmother to a nursing care facility. They just need to ensure that she will be cared for 24/7. This is because all of them are already working, so there are no people in their house aside from her most of the time.

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