1. Know your rights. If a hospital tells you your loved one must be discharged within 24 hours, you have appeal rights under Medicare that can extend your relative’s stay by two days and give you time to research nursing homes. Ask the hospital for a copy of “An Important Message from Medicare,” or call toll-free 1-800-633-4227.

2. Use the Eldercare Locator. It will connect you with your local agency on aging, which can give you names and locations of nursing homes. Go to the Eldercare Locator on the Internet or call toll-free 1-800-677-1116

3. Do lots of clicking. Consumer Reports recently completed an investigation of nursing homes. Click here and select your state and you will be provided with a list of facilities to consider or avoid.

4. Tap into other resources. You can check less complete surveys of nursing homes through the Nursing Home Compare database on the Web site of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

5. Check state survey reports. When you visit a nursing home, ask for a copy of the state inspection survey. It will reveal the results of unannounced visits by state surveyors who spoke with residents and checked on conditions and care issues.

6. Contact the state’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program. Call toll-free 1-888-831-0404 or visit the site on the Internet.

7. Make unannounced visits more than once. Visit nursing homes at different times of day. Are many residents still in bed at 10 a.m.? Do many eat dinner in their rooms rather than in the dining room? These all can be signs of an understaffed facility that isn’t giving its residents enough stimulation.

8. Stay alert for other details. Are toilet needs being met right away? Are there safety precautions to prevent accidents? Are exercise and rehabilitation sessions scheduled regularly? How does the staff interact with its residents?

9. Sit down with the administrator. Ask about his or her views on long-term care and find out if the home has seen a lot of high-level turnover in recent years, which could be a sign of instability.

10. Inquire about Medicaid. If your relative lives in a nursing home for a long time, his or her financial resources most likely will be exhausted and he or she will then be eligible for Medicaid. Get in writing the nursing home’s payment policy once private money or Medicare reimbursements run out.

Dan Frith
Dan Frith

Dan Frith has over 25 years of experience representing individuals and families in cases of medical malpractice throughout Virginia. He has been named "Best Medical Malpractice Attorney" by Roanoker Magazine and is a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum. To speak with Dan, contact him by email at dfrith@frithlawfirm.com.