Staring this spring, elderly Kansans and their loved ones will have an informative new online tool to use in choosing a nursing home.
But experts say that won’t erase the need for in-person visits and an early start when evaluating those facilities.
“It’s very important to visit the facility,” said Annette Graham, executive director of the Central Plains Area Agency on Aging, “A person should make multiple visits if possible.”
In April, the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services will launch an online report card for nursing homes, giving them overall grades of one through five sunflowers with five being the best. Health and care inspections, staff-to-resident ratios and other data will be factored into the grade.
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The agency also is posting excerpts of about 7,000 face-to-face interviews with nursing home residents across the state, conducted by a contractor for the state.
“That probably is going to be one of the better indicators as far as people’s experiences,” Joe Ewert, commissioner of survey, certification and credentialing for the agency, said. “We went out and interviewed essentially everyone that was capable of providing an interview.”
The report card and interviews will be found on the agency’s website, www.kdads.ks.gov.
There are several more sources for information on nursing homes already available. For instance, inspections and ratings of all nursing homes in the state can be viewed on Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare website – www.medicare.gov/nursinghomecompare/search.html. The homes can be searched for by name, ZIP code, city or state. The state also posts the information on its website.
Ewert said that just about every nursing home is going to have been cited for some deficiencies. “Look at the plan of correction,” he said. “Were they able to correct it in a reasonable amount of time? If there are multiple visits (by inspectors), that’s typically a red flag.”
Nothing replaces an in-person visit for getting “a sense of the facility,” he added.
“It should not be dirty. There’s no excuse for that. It should be an enjoyable environment. The staff should be interacting with the residents directly. If I were to see a number of patients lined up around the nursing station, that’s a problem.”
Ewert also urged people to try to make a decision about a nursing home before they actually need to go into one.
“So many people end up needing placement at the last minute,” he said. “They will never be in a weaker position to make a decision as a consumer.”
Mitzi McFatrich, executive director of Kansas Advocates for Better Care, said any nursing home that had been cited for “actual harm, abuse, neglect or exploitation” would cause her to look for another option.
Staffing during nights and weekends is another concern. “How many staff are actually going to help me with getting ready every day, turning me, overseeing medication?”
People should visit nursing homes they are considering and talk to residents and their families as well as the staff, she said.
“Ask them what the care’s like, what the food’s like, how long do you have to wait to be taken to the bathroom,” she said. “Not just on the surface level of ‘do you like it here?’ ”
If patients are paying out of their own pocket, they should be aware of just what is and what is not covered by the contract, she said.
Location also is often a key consideration when choosing a nursing home, she said.
“I think it’s important if you have family, if you’ve been part of a community, to stay connected to your support network,” she said. “A lot of times being geographically close to where you have these support networks is important.”
Her organization’s website – kabc.org – has numerous resources for Kansans considering nursing homes.