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The Steps to Choosing a SNF (Skilled Nursing Facility)

Step 1: Find out about the SNFs in your area.

  • Look at Caregiver Directory. You can find a list of all the nursing homes in your area and general information about every Medicare- and Medicaid-certified nursing home in the country. It includes nursing home inspection results, the number of nursing staff, and resident information. Call the nursing home to find out if it provides skilled care. If you don't have a computer, your local library or senior center may be able to help you.
  • If you are in the hospital, ask the hospital's discharge planner or social worker for a list of local nursing homes. They may help you find an available bed. Some SNFs work together with hospitals, and some are independent.
  • Visit or call your local social service agency or hospital. Ask to speak to a social worker or case manager who can help you find a SNF in your area.
  • Ask people you trust, like your doctor, family, friends, neighbors, or clergy if they have had personal experience with SNFs. They may be able to give you the name of a SNF where they had a good experience.
  • Call your Area Agency on Aging. Their telephone number should be listed in your local telephone book. This agency can give you information about the SNFs in your area. You can get the telephone number of your local Area Agency on Aging by looking at www.aoa.gov on the web. Select "About AoA and the Aging Network." Then select "Area Agencies on Aging."

Step 2: Find out how SNFs compare in quality of care.

Quality of care means doing the right thing, at the right time, in the right way for the right person, and having the best possible results. SNFs are certified to make sure they meet certain Federal health and safety requirements.

  • Ask friends and other people you know if they are or were satisfied with the quality of care.
  • Call the local office of consumer affairs for your state. Ask if they have information on the quality of SNFs (look in the blue pages of your telephone book for their telephone number).
  • Call your State health department. Ask if they have information on the quality of SNFs (look in the blue pages of your telephone book for their telephone number).
  • Call your Long-Term Care Ombudsman. The Ombudsman program helps residents of SNFs solve problems by acting on their behalf. Ombudsmen visit SNFs and speak with residents throughout the year to make sure residents' rights are protected. They are a very good source of general information about SNFs and can work to solve problems with your care, including financial issues. They may be able to help you compare the SNF's strengths and weaknesses. Ask them questions like how many complaints they have gotten about a SNF, what kind of complaints they were, and if the problems were resolved.

Step 3: Visit the SNFs you are interested in, or have someone visit for you.

Before you make a decision, visit the SNFs you are interested in. A visit gives you the chance to see the residents, staff, and facility. It also allows you to talk with SNF staff, and with the people who live and get care at the SNF and their family members. Be sure to call and make an appointment to tour the SNF before you visit.

If you can't visit the SNF yourself, you may want to get a family member or friend to visit for you. If a family member or friend can't visit for you, you can call for information. However, a visit gives you a better way to see the quality of care and life the residents get.

When You Visit
Review Information

  • Before your visit, review any information you have already gathered.

Take a Formal Tour:

  • Make an appointment with the SNF before you visit.
  • Take a formal tour with a SNF staff member.
  • Ask the staff to show you the information they are required to post about the number of licensed and unlicensed nursing staff.
  • Look around to get a better picture of the services, activities, and quality of care and life for the residents.
  • The SNF must have the results of the most recent survey of the facility done by the Federal or State surveyors available for you to look at.

Visit Again

  • Revisit the SNF on a different day and at a different time of the day than when you first visited. Staffing can be different at different times of the day, and on weekends.
  • Try to visit during the late morning or midday. This allows you to see the residents when they are out of bed, eating, and going to activities.

Go to Resident/Family Council Meetings:

  • Ask a SNF staff member if you can get permission from the resident or family council's participants to attend a meeting of the nursing home's resident council and/or family council meeting. These councils are usually organized and managed by the residents' families to improve the quality of care and life for the residents, and address concerns.

Ask Questions
Use the Skilled Nursing Facility Checklist:

  • Ask questions from the Skilled Nursing Facility Checklist. The checklist can help you to know what to look for and what questions to ask so you can compare SNFs. This checklist has questions about basic information, resident appearance, living spaces, staff, residents' rooms, hallways, stairs, lounges, bathrooms, menus and food, activities, and safety and care. For example:
  • Is the SNF certified by Medicare and Medicaid?
  • Is there a bed available? (Is there a waiting list?)
  • Is the SNF easy to visit for family and friends?
  • Ask to see a copy of the SNF's most recent inspection report. If any deficiencies were found, ask if they have been corrected and ask to see the plan correction.

Ask about Satisfaction:

  • Talk to staff, residents, and family members if you can. Ask them if they are satisfied with the care at the SNF and its services.

Other Questions

  • Write down any questions you still have about the SNF or how the SNF will meet your needs.
  • Ask the staff to explain anything you see and hear that you don't understand. For example, a person may be calling out. It may be because they are confused, not because they are being hurt or neglected. Don't be afraid to ask questions.

Don't go into resident rooms or care areas without checking with the resident and SNF staff first. Residents have a right to privacy.

Step 4: Choose the SNF that best meets your needs.

If you find more than one facility with a skilled bed available, use all the information you get to compare them. Trust your senses. If you don't like what you see on a visit, if the facility doesn't smell clean, or if you aren't comfortable talking to the staff at the facility, you may want to choose another SNF. If you feel that the patients are treated well, the facility is clean, and the staff is helpful, you may feel better about your decision. Once you have made your decision, you can make your arrangements with the SNF.

Find a Nursing Home in Your Area from the Caregiver Directory.

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