With the coronavirus infecting nursing homes across the country at an alarming rate, many families are wondering whether their loved ones would be better off at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Federal regulations allow a resident to leave a facility at any time. But, experts advise, it is wise to think the process through thoroughly.
"It's a really tough question for which there is no easy answer,” says Susan Wehry, chief of geriatrics at the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine. “There's not even a single answer."
Determine your motivation
Wehry starts by digging into why families are making this decision.
"Are you afraid that your mom is going to get COVID-19? Are you afraid that your mom is going to die before you get to see her again? Are you afraid that your husband is simply lonely, getting depressed and getting anxious?” she asks. “Because when you can get yourself to really ask what is motivating you, what is the problem you're trying to solve, then you can see whether or not there's more than one solution to the problem."
Figure out your options
Salli Pung, the long-term care ombudsman for the state of Michigan, urges people to think through practicalities such as how a home is set up, whether someone could maneuver with a wheelchair or rolling walker, and if the bathroom is large enough, safe and accessible.
There are lots of details to consider, she says, and some things can fall through the cracks during a transition home, such as prescriptions that could run out, or trouble getting placed back in a nursing home if you change your mind.
Patricia Hunter, Washington state's long-term care ombudsman, says it important to sort through your options and come up with a game plan. Any wish to leave a facility — short or long term — starts by notifying the social work department or the nurse manager for the facility. There are state and federal laws about discharge planning and processes. Residents and family members should discuss with the facility what the terms are for leaving and returning and get everything in writing.