Quality Nursing Home Care

Each facility can be very different, which is a big factor

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

About half of people will need long-term care eventually. Of those, some will receive care in a nursing home. If you are planning for your own care or for that of a loved one, how can you know if a facility provides quality care?

The New York State Department of Health licenses and inspects nursing homes, examining metrics including quality of care received, quality of life achieved, safety of residents, preventive care practices, and inspections and complaint information. Information on specific nursing homes is available at their website.

Medicare’s website also lists nursing homes with ratings based upon health inspections, staffing and quality of resident care measures.

Consumers can also look for third-party quality accreditation such as by Joint Commission. The independent, non-profit is the oldest healthcare accreditation body in the nation. Organizations must successfully submit copious documentation and complete a rigorous on-site survey by a Joint Commission team every three years to maintain their accreditation.

“There are a variety of factors that should be considered by family members and caregivers when selecting an adult care facility or nursing home, including determining what level of support your loved one needs,” said David Shenk, Erie County commissioner of Senior Services. “You need to take the time for a proper evaluation of the individual and use that information to find a location that provides high-quality services and hires and retains qualified employees.”

“The best advice is to remain focused and determined to find somewhere that believes in the dignity of all people and that fosters an environment that celebrates and respects all of their residents regardless of their age, physical condition or economic status,” he added. “Make it your number one goal to find a caring place that is deeply committed to supporting senior citizens and has a solid reputation in their community.”

Stephen Hanse, president and CEO of The New York State Health Facilities Association, Inc. in Albany, thinks it is a good idea to visit nursing homes in person (if permitted) or at least virtually.
Reporting sites “are not always up-to-date and accurate,” Hanse said. “The best barometer determining the best facility is to choose a facility that is close to where you live so you can visit.”
While visiting, observe how the residents appear. Are they clean and content? Look for a bulletin board listing activities and events. Does the facility look and smell clean? Visit during a mealtime. Does the food appear appetizing? Do residents who need help receive help in eating?
“It really is what feels right to you?” Hanse said. “You may be able to have a virtual meeting with the facility and talk with the administrator and staff. Talk about your loved one’s needs and find the fit. It’s similar to a process in anything in life where you’re choosing something important like choosing a college.”

Ask about any specific medical or clinical needs and if the facility can meet those needs.

While friends’ recommendations can be part of the decision, Hanse warned that everyone has a different experience and one bad experience with a particular staff member may not warrant writing off a facility. A good nursing home would follow through with further training and possible disciplinary action after an incident.

“A lot of people write down a list of the questions they want to ask,” Hanse said. “Understand the needs and priorities and concerns of your loved one. Have a candid, open conversation. That’s critical.”

In crisis situations, when the family and patient have little time to plan, they may need to select a nursing home in just a couple of days. Current staffing constraints and a limited number of beds available also make the options fewer.

If possible, “make it convenient, somewhere nearby,” said Kristin Surdej is a licensed masters of social work and is care manager certified. She is with Laping, Surdej, Associates, LLC, geriatric card managers in Cheektowaga.

She views online tools as offering only once piece of the picture.

“Honestly, any place can be good or bad,” she added. “It can vary by unit at facilities. Keep an open mind. Tour places if they can tour them. Don’t write off a place if you heard of a bad experience from one person. Communicate with the staff to work out any problems.”

She advises looking at how the staff engages with residents, available activities and entertainment. These quality-of-life measures can help measure how much the staff and management care about residents.

“Each facility can be very different, which is a big factor,” she said. “Ask how frequent the visitation is, keeping in mind things are different with COVID-19.”

Resources to Find the Right Nursing Home

Check the following sites to learn about how a nursing home stacks up.



Joint Commission:

Erie County Senior Services:

NYS Department of Health: