Choosing a nursing home for an aging parent is an important and difficult decision.

We are to help you find nursing homes. However, if you want to do it by yourself, here are some steps so you can find a good nursing home and avoid a bad one.

Make a List: Start by contacting the Department of Aging for a list of local nursing home facilities. Ideally, the facilities should be close to family members and friends who can visit often. Residents with frequent visitors usually get better care.

Do Some Research: Every year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services collect data on more than 15,000 nursing homes throughout the country. Health inspection data, staffing and quality measures are combined to come up with an overall ranking system of one to five stars. To research the nursing homes in your area, go to medicare.gov

Call Your Ombudsman: This is a government official who investigates nursing home complaints and advocates for residents and their families. To find your local ombudsman, call your area aging agency or see www.ltcombudsman.org

Call the Facilities: Once you’ve narrowed your search, call the nursing homes you’re interested in to find out if they have any vacancies, what they charge, and if they accept Medicaid — most do.

Visit Your Top Choices: Be sure to visit more than once and at different times of the day and different days of the week. While you’re there, notice the cleanliness and smell of the facility. Does the staff seem responsive and kind to its residents? Also, be sure to taste the food, and talk to the residents and their family members, if available.

Upon arrival, ask for the nursing home administrator or admissions to give you a tour. Find out about staff screening (do they do background checks) and training procedures and what percentage of their staff leaves each year. Less than 30 percent annually is considered good. More than 50 percent is a red flag.

To help you rate your visit, Medicare offers a checklist.

Paying for Care

With nursing home costs now over $250 per day, paying for long-term care is another area you may have questions about or need assistance with. Medicare only helps pay up to 100 days of “medically necessary” nursing home care, which must occur after a three day hospital stay. Most nursing home residents pay from personal money, long-term care insurance policies or, if they qualify, through Medicaid.

For more information, get Medicare’s booklet “Guide to Choosing a Nursing Home.” To receive a free copy via mail, call 800-633-4227, or you can read it online .

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