Guest Columns

Preparedness is key

Matthew Gallardo
Matthew Gallardo

There are numerous resources available on the Internet to help you choose the right nursing home for an ailing parent or loved one. They tell you what questions to ask and what characteristics to look for in a nursing facility. Websites such as webmd.com, AARP.org, NIA.NIH.gov offer great tips and questions to consider during your search. However, I'd like to suggest a way to enhance the search process by encouraging you to be more forward-thinking in addition to using the websites listed above.

Most nursing home research and placement is reactionary when you're knee-deep in crisis mode. Being prepared and readying yourself with knowledge and familiarity is vital to making a more sound and well-paced decision. So, if your loved one is facing major health issues or a medical professional is telling you "it's time," what can you do to make this process a bit easier?

Practice proactivity

Pre-planning is certainly easier said than done, but you should be as proactive as you can be. It's not unlike pre-planning a funeral: It is a bit depressing, but very necessary. If it's clear your loved one's health is rapidly declining, doing some preliminary research on nursing homes is extremely helpful. The same can be said for assisted living or personal care home placement. Planning ahead also gives your loved one a bigger role in the decision-making process, which is also very important. Furthermore, making a choice for future need doesn't seal their fate for actually needing it - just like pre-planning your funeral won't actually send you to an early grave!

Don't decide at the Eleventh Hour

If you start this emotional and arduous search as your mother sits in a hospital bed, possibly unable to express her wishes, you will find yourself in a precarious spot. Racing around to tour several nursing homes while you're still in shock or dismay about your mom's condition is also an unpleasant spot to be in. Plus, with the ever-shrinking length of hospitalizations, it doesn't give you much leeway to research and choose a facility before she's being discharged. In some cases, families are compelled to take the first or only option for nursing placement that's given to them. And quite often it's not a facility that you would've ever picked yourself.

What if you are blindsided?

As mentioned earlier, for many, nursing home placement will be reactionary. If your loved one, who was in reasonably good health, playing golf one day and in the hospital after a massive stroke the next day, nursing care placement will be a bit more challenging. However, there are several tips to keep in mind during this fast-paced process. If it is clear that your loved one is unable to return home or go directly to an intensive rehab hospital and nursing care is recommended, don't assume you have several days or a week to make this decision. By the time the determination is made, you likely have 48 hours or less to make a decision. Move quickly; get recommendations from the doctor or social worker at the hospital.

Online research is also helpful. Thumbing through the phone book, finding the nursing homes with the prettiest ad and just showing up to take a tour is impractical. Websites like Medicare.gov have nursing home directories for all 50 states that you can filter down to your zip code. It also provides state-evaluated information including: overall rating, health inspection grade, staff rating, and quality measures. It also serves as the most comprehensive list out there. A general Internet search for a nursing home can churn up a lot of confusion. Once you narrow your choices based on location, survey ratings, and personal preferences, then set up your tour.

So gather your Internet questionnaires, do early research, take tours, and even submit applications for down the road. If in crisis mode, remain calm, but react quickly and streamline the options with professional advice and an online search before you take a tour. These tips will alleviate some of the mental and emotional strain of making this difficult choice, if and when it needs to be made.

Matthew J. Gallardo, BASW, CCP, is Director of Community Engagement and Coaching at Messiah Lifeways.
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