Advice from a family on visiting nursing homes

May family visits in the McLean gardens.     I’m often asked by families how to assess nursing homes for their loved one. Peter and Rebecca May offered to share their experience. They have been the caregivers for Peter’s mother for several years. She has lived in assisted living centers and two nursing homes. She is currently a resident at the McLean Home. When I asked Rebecca about their choice, she began to explain her mother-in-law’s first day. “The day she moved in, the dining staff made sure the other folks were to her right at her table so she could hear them.” That seems like a simple thing, but she told me it was never thought about in other places. “They also routinely do her nails and her hair.” Mrs. May held out her hands showing off the pretty light pink polish telling me that pink is her favorite color. Rebecca said that she had to care for Mrs. May’s nails and often her hair when she visited her in other places. Rebecca said this can be summed up in one word, “dignity.” It is easy to look at residents in homes and see if their nails are groomed, the ladies have jewelry on, and the men’s outfits fit and are fresh. I have heard from families that when they visit a parent in some assisted living and skilled nursing facilities they never know what they will be wearing and often they are not their own clothes. In person-centered organizations with consistent staff assignments, this attention to each person’s needs and wishes becomes possible.

Peter, Rebecca and Mrs. May visit in the gardens at the McLean Health Center.Rebecca had visited places and knew better care was available, but Peter was reluctant to move his mother again and cause her to be more confused. “I was concerned about the move. It was totally seamless, extremely welcoming. Very soon after we arrived the doctor came to meet Mom. She did a thorough exam later in the day, and she then spoke with us. I never saw a doctor in the months she was in another home. The word I’d use to describe our experiences now is respect.”

Things that can guide a family while visiting places are the cleanliness of the facility, does the facility have a foul smell, are residents positioned comfortably in their chairs, and are staff clearly around and paying attention to residents. Rebecca said it’s good to chat with the residents. “Here they are happy, and it shows. We appreciate the consistent staff assignments so a few people really know and care for Mom, and we know them, but I can ask anyone a question.” Peter added that his mother loves it when they bring their dog and having other dogs around in the pet therapy program. They have gotten to know many residents when their pet comes along.

Another key message they shared was participation in meaningful activities. “Mom could just sit in her wheelchair all day, but not here. Instead of asking her if she wanted to do something and accepting “no” as her answer, the staff here engages her. She goes to many things including church this week. Once she goes, she likes the programs.” Peter added “And we are included. We received the lovely invitation to the nice Mother’s Day brunch. The cabaret music was great. Today is the picnic. Our family is part of the community.”

Peter and Rebecca’s final advice is to “look at nursing homes before you need one, and see how things are run, and learn about admission policies and state wait list laws. When the need becomes immediate, it is difficult to be objective, or even find a place in a high quality home.” For more information on comparing nursing homes, families are encouraged to visit and compare quality data and staffing in nursing homes.