Americans are living longer, healthier lives than ever before, but individuals still require more assistance as they age – a trend that hasn’t necessarily changed. Sometimes this type of attention can best be provided in a nursing home or other care facility. Yet while thousands of our elderly and most vulnerable citizens live in these facilities, the sad fact is that not all nursing homes provide quality treatment.
According to a report by the Special Investigations Division of the House Government Reform Committee, 30% of nursing homes – around 5,200 care centers – have been reprimanded for abuse and neglect of residents.
That number is obviously far too large.
These problems extend to the care we give to veterans. In VA nursing homes, inspections have uncovered problems with sanitation, feeding, bed sores, pain not being managed properly and neglect. With these dangers in mind, it’s crucial to know how to find good nursing home care for loved ones, and how to spot potential problems.
Doing the Research
When looking for a nursing home, ask trusted people for advice. These could include doctors, family members, friends or other reliable people whom you trust. Contacting the local committee on aging for recommendations, or asking a hospital social worker, are two other ways to find reputable homes.
When visiting a nursing home for the first time, family members should come prepared with questions about policies and limitations. Can residents have pets or choose how to decorate their rooms? Do the rooms have telephones and televisions? Is transportation provided? Is there a doctor on staff who is there every day? Are residents still able to see their trusted primary care physician?
Additionally, the state inspection agency should have the most recent report on the home, noting any violations. These reports can contain potential red flags, which makes them crucial for family members who need to know these details before choosing a facility.
Sensing Potential Problems
Because nursing homes provide 3 meals a day, it is key that the food looks and tastes appealing. Do staff members pay attention to how much their residents eat? If a resident does not care for the meals, family members should ask if it is possible to make changes to their diet. While some people may have restrictions, working with the nursing home staff and doctors can assure that a loved one’s meals are healthy and enjoyable.
Additionally, while some odd smells in nursing homes are not out of the ordinary, family members should take note if the home smells persistently bad. This could be a sign that the floors are not being cleaned and sanitized thoroughly.
Nursing homes should also not have too many loud noises, which can be disturbing to elderly residents particularly if they have dementia. One sign that a home is being well-run is that it is calm and quiet.
Family members can also note the actions of nursing home staff, and whether they treat residents with respect. This can be reflected in their tones of voice, and if they use the resident’s first name or address them as Mrs. and Mr., depending on residents’ preferences.
Another detail is whether staff members chat with residents when in their rooms, instead of only talking to one another. When staff members communicate at the nurses’ station, are they friendly and cordial or rude? These behavioral cues point to the general work environment and staff morale.
Surefire Staff and Careful Care
One crucial question to ask about care is the number of staff per resident. A facility that has too few staff members can lead to caregivers feeling overly stressed and unable to spend enough time with residents.
If a loved one cannot easily get out of bed, family members should assure they are being rotated so they do not get bed sores. If the resident is able to move but needs assistance with their wheelchair or walker, staff members should provide this help daily.
Do No Harm
While older people can bruise easily, family can be alert for bruises shaped like fingers or hands, especially around upper arms or on backs. While some bruising isn’t cause for concern, the shape of a mark could suggest nursing home abuse.
Additionally, the staff should call a family member if their loved one falls. Staff members need to explain what happened and when it happened, and whether there were visible injuries. Staff should continue to monitor residents for problems, because some complications may not be apparent until later.
Freedom to Choose
When entering the nursing home, family members can notice whether residents are allowed to move around freely. Can they cluster in a lounge, get to the nurses’ station, visit each other’s rooms and go out of the facility to enjoy fresh air without risk of harm? This freedom can be a good sign, meaning residents are not restricted to their rooms.
Other points to consider are whether residents can make decisions for themselves, such as when to sleep and wake up, and what to wear. Does the nursing home offer a range of activities so that residents can choose how to schedule their day?
Family and friends should be able to visit when they like, and be with their loved one for a meal or activity. It can also be important to stop by on the weekends and in the evening to make sure caregivers are around and attentive to residents’ needs.
Stop. Look, Listen
Above all, it is vital for family and friends to listen to a loved one’s reports on the care they receive at the nursing home. Visitors should also note changes in a resident’s behavior, if they have the same problems or complaints or if they seem anxious around a particular staff member. These actions can be signs of elder abuse, so it is critical that they not be ignored.
While there are many dedicated health care professionals working in our nation’s nursing homes, we cannot forget that residents may also be vulnerable to abuse and mistreatment. Yet with care and attention, family and friends can make sure their loved ones live in a place that feels like home.