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By Wayne Hogan and Albert Lechner

Having to select a nursing home for a loved is one must be one of the most challenging and difficult decisions we can face. This article offers some consid­er­a­tions and resources to help you inves­tigate and choose a nursing home that’s right for your loved one.

Getting Started: Unannounced Visit

Compare the nursing homes you are consid­ering by taking an unannounced visit to each of the facil­ities. Pay close attention to how you are greeted by the staff, and how they treat residents and one another. Is the facility neat and free from odors? Ask to speak with other residents or their families about their experi­ences. Ask your loved one’s physician, and any other physi­cians you know (especially those who have elderly patients), what they know about the facility. In addition to an in-person visit, there are many free resources available to further assist with your research into the facility.

State and Federal Agencies

Visit www.medicare.gov/NHCompare, a free site that allows you to compare the quality of the facil­ities being considered using a five star rating system. It includes results of health inspec­tions, staff data, quality measures and fire safety inspection reports.

The Florida Agency for Health Care Admin­is­tration (AHCA) inspects nursing homes each year. Its survey includes a facility tour, inter­views with residents, family, staff, visitors and volun­teers, an assessment of resident rights, protec­tions and activ­ities, and medical record reviews.  Survey results and a Watch List of facil­ities that did not meet minimum standards can be found here on AHCA’s website.

You may also request this Florida Nursing Home Guide. It contains an inspection history, ownership status, special services, charges or deficiencies and ratings for every nursing home in Florida.

Other Helpful Resources

You may also obtain reports on inspec­tions and complaints at www.healthgrades.com and www.carescout.com, two unbiased sources for reviews of nursing homes nationwide. Check certi­fying agency reports for infor­mation on the quality of nursing homes. This Medicare publi­cation has additional infor­mation on choosing a nursing home.

The Admis­sions Process

When you have decided on a nursing home, please beware of something you will surely encounter during the admis­sions process. Your loved one will be presented with numerous documents for signature during the admission process. The admis­sions agreement will likely contain language where the resident agrees to waive their rights to a jury trial to resolve any disputes against the facility – including any civil actions as the result of any neglect or abuse –and instead submit them to binding arbitration. It is a miscon­ception that arbitration is faster and less expensive than a civil lawsuit. The reality is that any cost savings or time savings are offset by the lower damage awards that are usually awarded by arbitration panels. Even though most nursing homes will not require the resident to agree to binding arbitration, most residents simply sign the admis­sions agreement containing such language without thought of the conse­quences or without opting out of the arbitration provision (which almost all facil­ities will let the resident do). Please ensure that you review the paperwork signed by your loved one for admission to the facility and discuss any arbitration provision with them immedi­ately.

The injuries and conse­quences that result from neglect in nursing homes can be devas­tating. If you or a loved one has experi­enced neglect while a resident of a nursing home, it is important to consult with an attorney experi­enced in nursing home cases and who has the resources to vigor­ously pursue justice on your behalf.