How to Visit Prospective Nursing HomesHow to Visit Prospective Nursing Homes

For many of us, the responsibility of choosing a nursing home for a parent comes at an already stressful time – Mom has fallen or Dad has a serious infection and they need round the clock care as soon as they leave the hospital. I recently asked a number of women I know what they wished they’d known before they had to find care for their own parents. Near the top of the list: tips on how to visit and choose a nursing home. The suggestions below are based on their experiences and recommendations.

Understand what’s available to your parents

Financing nursing home care can be a big challenge, even for seniors who’ve saved carefully for retirement. That’s because the cost of care has been rising faster than the overall cost of living for some time. For seniors without substantial savings or a home that can be sold or reverse-mortgaged, the best (and in some cases only) option will be to apply for Medicaid and limit your nursing-home search to Medicaid-approved facilities.

Ask about payment plans, contracts, and basic services

There are a lot of financial and Medicaid-approval details to sort out when you choose a nursing home. Make sure you understand each facility’s rules about deposits, notice, payment plans and schedules, what’s included in the monthly rate and what’s extra. Get this information in writing from each nursing home you visit so you can look them over and compare the terms later on at home. Ask any follow-up questions and get answers in writing before you make a deposit or sign a contract.

Look beyond appearances

The best advice from my group of “been there” women: “Don’t judge a place by its looks. Make sure they take pride in the upkeep of the facility, but new and fancy does not [necessarily] equal good care.” Cleanliness, safety, and neatness are important, but the most important element in any nursing home is the people working there. Make detailed notes on how the director of nursing and the caregivers treat you, your parent, and other residents during your visits.

Visit each place more than once

You’ve probably already heard and read that you should visit each nursing home on your list more than once before you make a decision. As one of my survey participants said, “You can’t really know how the staff members treat a patient until you see them several times in different settings.” If you’re short on time (for example, if your parent will be discharged from the hospital into nursing care soon) ask your friends and family to make visits on your behalf and then compare notes.

Care experts recommend visiting at different times of day, including mealtimes, and making at least one unannounced visit to compare with your planned visits. At each place you or your friends visit, ask to see a copy of their most recent state inspection report. If there are deficiencies listed on the report, ask what’s being done to fix them, and by what deadline.

Check each nursing home’s reputation

There are three main ways to do this. First, contact your state’s health department and ask if the facilities have any consumer complaints or deficiencies in their inspection reports. If so, ask if they’ve been corrected or when the deadline is to correct them.

Next, ask your friends, co-workers, and acquaintances with aging parents to see which facilities they recommend and why (or why not). You can also do a quick Google search for each facility you consider to see what comes up.

Finally, check online reviews to see what current and former residents and their families have to say about living there. In addition to seeing what residents liked (or didn’t like), you can also see if the community managers are responsive to reviews and address the concerns they raise. You can find ratings for nursing homes around the US and Canada on

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance writer whose childhood was made awesome by her grandmothers, great-grandmother, great-aunts and -uncles, and their friends.


  1. Brad Blake January 5, 2017 Reply

    Two resources that are very helpful are these: Every region has an Area Agency on Aging. Their staff can help access state records on complaints, lawsuits, state actions, etc. filed (and resolved) against nursing homes. These are important “red flags” to guard against utilizing deficient facilities. The second is the website which utilizes a star rating system for a variety of categories.
    For disclosure, I work in Long Term Care claims for a major American insurance company.

  2. KAHWS January 5, 2017 Reply

    Please take me off your list. I am a Canadian and unable to afford to pay for care.

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