Picking a Nursing Home That’s Right for You

Several websites help those looking for the right senior facility

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

About half of people will need long-term care eventually. Of those, some will receive care in a nursing home. If you are planning for your own care or for that of a loved one, how can you know if a skilled nursing facility provides quality care?

The New York State Department of Health licenses and inspects nursing homes, examining metrics including quality of care received, quality of life achieved, safety of residents, preventive care practices and inspections and complaint information. Information on specific nursing homes is available at their website.

Medicare’s website also lists assisted living homes with ratings based upon health inspections, staffing and quality of resident care measures.

Consumers can also look for third-party quality accreditation such as by Joint Commission. The independent, nonprofit is the oldest accreditation body in the nation. Organizations must successfully submit copious documentation and complete a rigorous on-site survey by a Joint Commission team every three years to maintain their accreditation.

Carol Brownstein-Evans, Ph.D, is a professor at Nazareth College. She recommends looking at resources such as Lifespan and calling 211.

“Lifespan is one of the great agencies to make contact with to connect with services for older adults,” she said.

In addition to these kinds of professional recommendations, Stephen Hanse, president and CEO of The New York State Health Facilities Association, Inc. in Albany, thinks it is a good idea to visit nursing homes in person (if permitted) or at least virtually.

Reporting sites “are not always up-to-date and accurate,” Hanse said. “The best barometer determining the best facility is to choose a facility that is close to where you live so you can visit.”

While visiting, observe how the residents appear. Are they clean and content? Look for a bulletin board listing activities and events. Does the facility look and smell clean? Visit during a mealtime. Does the food appear appetizing? Do residents who need help receive help in eating?

“It really is what feels right to you.” Hanse said. “You may be able to have a virtual meeting with the facility and talk with the administrator and staff. Talk about your loved one’s needs and find the fit. It’s similar to a process in anything in life where you’re choosing something important like choosing a college.”

Ask about any specific medical or clinical needs and if the senior home care or assisted living facility can meet those needs.

While friends’ recommendations can be part of the decision, Hanse warned that everyone has a different experience and one bad experience with a particular staff member may not warrant writing off a facility. A good nursing home would follow through with further training and possible disciplinary action after an incident.

“A lot of people write down a list of the questions they want to ask,” Hanse said. “Understand the needs and priorities and concerns of your loved one. Have a candid, open conversation. That’s critical.”

In crisis situations, when the family and patient have little time to plan, they may need to select a nursing home in just a couple of days. Current staffing constraints and a limited number of beds available also make the options fewer.

“Some long-term care facilities are admitting no residents — even for rehab — and wait lists are long,” said Mary Rose McBride, vice president of marketing and communications for Lifespan in Rochester. “For families, plan for a transition as far in advance as possible; don’t wait until you need to find a placement.”

Before COVID-19, she would ordinarily advise visiting the nursing home. Since in-person visits may not be allowed, ask these questions:

  1.  Is this nursing home involved in culture change? (See www.pioneernetwork.net.)
  2. How will you get to know my family member?
  3. Do the CNAs and nursing assistants take care of the same group of residents each time they work, or do you rotate the assignments after a period of time?
  4. What is your policy regarding food choices and alternatives?
  5. Can my loved one be given a shower or bath when he or she chooses? How often are baths or showers available?
  6. What type of recreational activities are offered here?
  7. How do you build a sense of community, and give those who live here a voice in the decisions about how things are done?
  8. How do you meet the special needs of people who have some type of dementia?

After asking those questions, she advises choosing three to four facilities, applying and following up with the admissions coordinator occasionally to address any issues. You can also check various memory care community options. Visit sites like www.orchardparkatvictorylakes.com/assisted-living/ to get an idea.

Resources to Find the Right Nursing Home

Check the following sites to learn about how a nursing home stacks up.


NYS Department of Health:

Joint Commission: