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Do your research before choosing a nursing home

Nursing homes are supposed to be places where the most vulnerable can receive care. Unfortunately, due to low staffing numbers, negligence, violence and other negativity, nursing homes now have a bad reputation for not caring well for patients.

The best thing you can do to ensure your parent's comfort and safety is to stay alert for signs that the nursing home is not providing quality care. When you place a loved one in a nursing facility, it is up to you act as his or her advocate. If things are not up to par at the home, it is up to you to step up, speak up and take the necessary actions to either remove your loved one or ensure the home corrects the situation.

Get to know the staff

Don't just get to know the staff that works with your loved one regularly. Get to know the lunch team and visiting staff, such as those who come to do nail-painting activities or wash patients' hair. Learn about how they feel there and what they'd like to see improve, so you get the full picture about how the facility works.

Know if your loved one has access to enough care

One of the most important things to keep an eye on is the ratio of staff members to nursing home residents. To do this, you need to get the total number of licensed nurses and the number of residents in the facility. Divide residents by the number of licensed nurses to see the staffing ratio. Smaller ratios, like 2 to 1 or 3 to 1, are better. Staffing ratios should be higher in homes where residents need more advanced care.

You also want to look into how much time each resident gets with a nurse each day. For example, the RNs might spend an average of two hours with each resident if there is a smaller ratio compared to 30 minutes a day with a larger ratio.

Why do high staff numbers matter?

High staff numbers are vital for a few reasons. For example, you want to make sure your loved one will get care when they need it. If they press a call button, the response time should be short. If it's not, they could be hurt or in pain with no way to get help.

Another reason to choose a nursing home with a smaller staff-to-patient ratio is because the staff can become more familiar with your loved one. The more familiar they are, the more likely they are to recognize when your loved one isn't feeling well or is not improving with medications or treatments.

Overall, everything runs more smoothly when a nursing home has enough staff members to help the residents. When the nursing home is short-staffed, then you'll see few nurses, because they're all busy with patients and unable to stop for the breaks they should be receiving.

Take the taste test

Not only do you want to ensure that your mother or father is eating properly; you also want to make sure that the food the facility is serving is palatable. The elderly tend to lose interest in eating as they age especially since they are losing the full sensitivity of their senses. This means that if the food is not prepared to be both nutritious and tasty, your parent may not be eating enough. Take the time to test the food and share meals with them to determine if the home is meeting their needs in the dining room.

Use your ears

Listen to the way the staff talks to other residents. Are they being respectful, considerate and compassionate? If you hear nursing home staff belittling, disrespecting or patronizing other residents, the facility may not be a good fit for your parent.

In addition, listen to how the staff interact with each other. If you see or hear workers treating each other poorly, then there is a good chance they are not treating the residents any better. You may also pick up on signs of stress or indications that nurses and orderlies are overworked or badly managed. If the facility is understaffed or improperly supervised, that means that there is a high risk of injuries due to neglect.

Take a whiff

Pay attention to the smells in the nursing home. While most facilities can have some strange smells due to cleaning chemicals, medication and diets, odors such as stale urine can be signs that the home is not maintaining sufficient sanitary and hygienic standards.

Inspect the facility

The facility itself should be clean and free from clutter. Falls are one of the biggest causes of injury in a nursing home, and although it is impossible to prevent them completely, the nursing home should be set up to reduce that risk when possible. For example, the area should be well-lit and beds should be low enough to provide easy access. It is also a positive sign if the rooms have call buttons for residents to call for help.

If your loved one needs special treatment or attention, such as if they suffer from dementia, make sure to ask a lot of questions about the care they can provide. You want to be sure the staff is equipped to care for your loved one properly and that the facility is right for your loved one's condition.

Educate yourself on resident life

Be aware of the residents' activity while you visit nursing homes. It is a good sign when residents are out and about rather than all being isolated in their rooms. Ask about residents' daily schedules and what is available for them to do during the day. You should also ask about visitation to ensure that you can visit your loved one when you'd like.

Learn about how the director handles abuse and neglect

It's always possible to ask directly how situations of neglect, medical errors or abuse are handled by the people in charge. You want to know that they have a procedure for handling these situations so that your loved one will continue to receive proper care and respect.

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