How Do You Choose a Nursing Home?

By Kenneth N. Traub

You wouldn’t purchase a new car or refrigerator without first checking its ratings with “Consumer Reports”, so how can you select a nursing home for your loved one without first checking an unbiased data source?   Fortunately, the Federal Government’s Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services has developed a “Nursing Home Compare” website that provides an extensive, data-driven quality rating system which rates each nursing home’s overall quality from 5 star (best) to 1 star (worst). This website will greatly help consumers narrow down the number of nursing homes to visit when they are selecting a nursing home.  I am an active member of ALTY (Adding Life To Years), an independent Rochester area, not-for-profit, educational and advocacy group working to improve and to change the culture of nursing homes from that of hospital-like institutions to caring, and home-like social settings that practice individual-centered care, good relationships, and resident choice.  Nursing homes should be an inviting destination for people to live a fulfilling and meaningful life, rather than just a place to live a little longer.

In the process of investigating and selecting a nursing home, ALTY recommends that one of your first steps should be to visit the nursing home compare website, enter your zip code and click “Show Nursing Homes”.  This will generate a table of all of the nursing homes within a ten mile radius that take Medicare and/or Medicaid, (as well as private-pay) payments.  The table lists an Overall Rating composite 1-5 stars for each nursing home, and a separate 1-5 star rating for each of the following three sources of information: Health InspectionsStaffing, and Quality Measures.  You can click on the boxes to the left of each home’s name that you would like to compare, then click “Compare Now” to bring up detailed side-by-side comparisons.  ALTY recommends that you SELECT only 4 and 5 star overall rated homes for comparison and REJECT any 1 and 2 star homes.  Nursing Home Compare shows 34 homes in Monroe County, with seventeen 4 or 5 stars and eleven 1 or 2 stars rated.  The Overall Rating is recalculated every quarter based on the three measurement categories, with heaviest weighting given to Department of Health inspection results typically based on the past three years.  Once you’ve selected the homes to compare, you can click on the tabs to see the actual data and commentary regarding Inspections and Complaints, Staffing, Quality Measures (both short-stay and long-stay residents), and Penalties imposed.

Once you’ve selected nursing homes to consider based upon their ratings, you must visit each home to ask questions, talk with residents and staff (not just marketing), observe how staff interacts with residents, and inspect the latest resident and staff survey results.  Three excellent brochures are available to assist you in your visits:  “Your Guide to Choosing a Nursing Home” 1-800-MEDICARE and ask for brochure No. 02174, ALTY‘s “Change. For Good.” Call 975-ALTY or email , and Lifespan’s “The Smart Consumer’s guide to Quality Nursing Home Care”. 244-8400.

Traub is an active member of ALTY and has been a NYS Certified Long Term Care Ombudsman for the past seven years