As our population ages so does the need for safe and healthy nursing home care. Whether the purpose is to treat physical ailments, provide rehabilitation, or care for a patient dealing with dementia, nursing homes are here to stay – even with alternatives like assisted living and home care assistance. So how do we choose the right nursing home for our loved ones?
Of course, the first consideration may be based on the availability of a bed or room. Sometimes there is no vacancy. That aside, what should we be looking at? Forget the nice entry and lobby furnishings – these things tell us nothing about the quality of care. We should be able to determine what the track record of care has been for the facility(s) we are considering.
The first step in a thorough investigation should start with the “Connecticut Department of Public Health’s Survey of Nursing Homes” which includes information on “official” staffing which has been reported to the state. Note well any deficiencies. However, the latest report was published in 2011-2012, and staffing statistics often change over time.
A number of other online listings such as the Medicare.gov Nursing Home Compare site, show “deficiencies” for each facility reported by inspectors. They also show ratings for health inspections, staffing and other quality measures that may be useful in assessing the level of care at each home. Be especially aware of the same types of deficiencies that are found in subsequent years. Some of the deficiencies we are particularly concerned with in a legal sense deal with medication errors, malnutrition, falls, abuse, and bed pressure sores (decubitus ulcers). Tragically, in our law practice we have seen cases of bedsores down to the bone due to neglect.
Of course, it’s most important to visit prospective facilities in person. Multiple visits to a particular home of interest, at different times and shifts, may reveal what really takes place. Do not rely on advertising and marketing materials!
When interviewing a prospective nursing home, ask for a copy of their Admissions Agreement to take home and review. Especially look out for a mandatory binding arbitration provision. This provision usually prevents a lawsuit when the facility has injured a patient through its own negligence or neglect. Arbitration clauses are usually heavily biased in favor of the facility and should be avoided if possible.
Once your loved one is settled in to a nursing home, one of the most important things a family can do is to visit frequently and regularly. If there is any suspicious activity going on, keep a journal or diary, and take pictures. Photos of happy occasions (e.g. birthdays, anniversaries, holidays) whenever the family gets together, as well as photos of problems, may be important later on to illustrate that the patient was originally doing well, and that the family cares and is not just looking to capitalize on a law suit.
The age of a patient does not give any facility the right to cut a person’s life short through neglect or abuse, or to make their remaining years full of unnecessary pain and suffering. The last years of life may be the most precious, and it is important for your loved one to retain their dignity and respect.
Editor’s Note: Attorney Matthew Shafner is a Director at Suisman Shapiro Attorneys-at-Law in New London, and a nationally recognized lawyer in the fields of personal injury, asbestos injury, maritime injury and workers compensation law. Please contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via phone at (860) 442-4416 with questions about laws regarding nursing home negligence.