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Monday March 8, 2021

Savvy Living

Savvy Senior

How to Choose a Quality Nursing Home During a Pandemic

Can you give me some tips on how to pick a good nursing home in the COVID era? My mother had a stroke a while back and needs some extra care now. I have been taking care of her at home, but her health has declined to the point that I am unable to do it any longer.

COVID-19 has hit nursing homes hard over the past year, making it extremely difficult for people attempting to choose a nursing home during this time.

Many eldercare experts suggest avoiding nursing homes during the pandemic if possible. However, some families, like yours, are finding themselves in the difficult situation of needing long-term or rehabilitative care for their elder loved one.

To help you find a good nursing home in the COVID era, here are some steps to follow.

Make a list: There are several sources you can turn to for referrals to top nursing homes in your area. These include your mom's doctor, a nearby hospital discharge planner and friends or neighbors who have a loved one in a nursing home. The Medicare website also has a helpful nursing home compare tool at Medicare.gov/care-compare. In addition to helping you locate nursing homes in your area, it also provides a 5-star rating system on recent health inspections, staffing, quality of care and the facility overall.

Keep in mind that it may be desirable to choose a nursing home that is close to family members and friends who are able to check in. Friends and family who are familiar with the resident are sometimes best equipped to notice concerning changes that warrant further intervention.

Do some research: To research the nursing homes on your list, call your long-term care ombudsman. This is a government official who investigates nursing home complaints and advocates for residents and their families. The ombudsman can tell you which nursing homes have had complaints or problems in the past. To find your local ombudsman, call your area aging agency (800-677-1116) or visit LTCombudsman.org.

You should also visit the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services website (data.cms.gov), which provides updated data on U.S. nursing home reported COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Contact the nursing homes: Once you have identified a few good nursing homes, call them to see if they have any vacancies, what they charge and if they accept Medicaid.

Also, find out their staff-to-patient ratio and staff turnover rate, their COVID infection-control procedures, the percentage of residents and staff that have been vaccinated for COVID and their facility visitation policy.

If visitor restrictions are in place, see if they offer smartphone, tablet or laptop technology assistance so you can have video calls with your mom.

Tour your top choices: The best way to evaluate a nursing home is to visit it in person, but because of COVID, some facilities may offer limited or virtual tours only. To help you evaluate and rate a facility, Medicare offers a checklist of questions at Medicare.gov/NursingHomeCompare/Checklist.pdf.

Paying for care


The national average for a semi-private room is $255 per day and nearly $290 for a private room, so paying for care is another area of concern. Medicare only helps pay up to 100 days of rehabilitative nursing home care, which must occur after a qualifying hospital stay of at least three days.

Most nursing home residents pay for care from their personal savings, a long-term care insurance policy or through Medicaid once their savings are depleted.

The National Clearinghouse for Long-Term Care Information website (Acl.gov/ltc) is a good resource that can help you understand and research your financial options. You can also get help from your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP), which provides free counseling on all Medicare and Medicaid issues. To find a local SHIP counselor visit ShiptaCenter.org or call 877-839-2675.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

Published March 5, 2021
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