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How to Research a Nursing Home

Discover important facts about prospective facilities

How to research nursing homes

Danielle A. Scruggs

There are online tools that can help you ask the right questions when deciding on a nursing home for a loved one.

En español 

Nursing Home Compare

This online tool run by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services rates more than 15,000 nursing homes that are certified by that agency, on a scale of one to five stars (the more stars, the better). NHC bases its ratings on three categories: how the home fared on health inspections, whether it is staffed adequately and how it rated on other quality measures (for example, how many residents reported bedsores or were physically restrained).

Experts advise that you dig into the numbers behind the rating. “Just because there’s a five-star rating doesn’t mean it’s going to be great,” says Charlene Harrington, an emeritus professor at the University of California, San Francisco who researches nursing homes. “But if there’s one or two stars, you know it’s going to be problematic.” Each report is packed with useful information; be sure to read inspection reports thoroughly. 


State Ombudsmen

Each state is required by federal law to have a long-term care ombudsman, who serves as an advocate for people in nursing homes and their families. The office of the ombudsman reviews complaints and other concerns about nursing homes, with the goal of fixing problems. Much of the information these offices gather is available on their websites in reports and other documents. To find the ombudsman for your region, go to the website of the National Consumer Voice.  

AARP Caregiving Checklist

To ensure that you get as much information as possible out of your visits to facilities, AARP offers a printable list called “Nursing Homes: What to Ask.” Enter the term “AARP nursing home checklist” into an online search engine to find a link. The list covers background checks for staff members, transportation for residents to their doctor appointments and more. It will help you get answers to key questions you might otherwise forget to ask.

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