Make sure you do your research before choosing a nursing home for your loved one.

What is the best way for you to choose a nursing home for your loved one?  There is more information available than ever about nursing homes and you owe it to your family to be informed.

You might think there is no urgency to your selection of a nursing home...Guess again! About half of all nursing home admissions come directly after hospital stays, according to the AARP, and once a patient is discharged from a hospital, you may have as little as one day to find a nursing home.  Not a lot of time if you ask me and pretty stressful to boot.

Instead of finding a nursing home in 24 hours, why not treat your selection of a nursing home as if it were a new house?  This means RESEARCH.  You wouldn't buy the first house on the block that you visit, so why would you choose the first nursing home you see? You shouldn't!

Here's three important steps for finding the best nursing home for your family member: Step #1: Get together a list of potential nursing homes in your area.  With over 16,000 nursing homes in the United States, there's a decent chance that you will have options to choose from.  In New York, each county has an ombudsman who advocates for nursing home residents. You should contact the ombudsman in your county to help you find nursing homes in your area.  To find your ombudsman, go to www.ltombudsman.org/ombudsman.

Step #2:  Once you have a list of prospective nursing homes, get as much information about each nursing home.  A great tool is the website called Nursing Home Compare, at www.medicare.gov/NHCompare.  The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services collect information on health inspections, staffing, fire safety and 19 quality measures at nursing homes in the United States, and rank the results in ratings of one to five stars at the Nursing Home Compare website.  Now we're getting somewhere.

The nursing homes rankings give you a method for separating the good from the bad.  For example, a nursing home may get five stars (the best ranking), which means that it ranks in the top ten percent of nursing homes in the state for a particular category.  The best ranked nursing homes usually earn their stripes by having the highest staff-to-patient ratio.

By using the Nursing Home Compare website, you can whittle down your search for a nursing home to two or three.  Now, you're ready for step three.  Step #3: Visit the nursing home.  By visiting the nursing home you will get a feel for the day-to-day operations of the nursing home.  For example, you will see where residents spend most of their time, i.e., meeting in groups, participating in activities, going outdoors, or alone in their rooms.  You can take a tour of the kitchen, eat the food and look at the menu.  You should check the bathrooms to make sure they're clean.  Watch to see how the staff interacts with the residents.

Here's a little tip: Don't announce your visit to a nursing home, since you want to see how a nursing home operates when you're not there.  

To win you over, a nursing home should allow residents to set their own schedules, and it should have a policy of assigning a consistent team of doctors and nurses to each resident.  This increases staff familiarity with each resident and reduces medical errors.

These three simple steps will make make it easier for you to make one of the most important decisions of your life.