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Long-Term Care

Choosing a Nursing Home

A nursing home, also known as a skilled nursing facility, provides a wide range of health and personal care services.

These services typically include nursing care, 24-hour supervision, three meals a day, and assistance with everyday activities. Rehabilitation services, such as physical, occupational, and speech therapy, are also available.Older woman in a nursing home with a care provider's hand on her shoulder

Some people stay at a nursing home for a short time after being in the hospital. After they recover, they go home. However, most nursing home residents live there permanently because they have ongoing physical or mental conditions that require constant care and supervision.

If you need to go to a nursing home after a hospital stay, the hospital staff can help you find one that will provide the kind of care that's best for you. If you are looking for a nursing home, ask your doctor's office for recommendations. Once you know what choices you have, it's a good idea to:

Consider. What is important to you—nursing care, meals, physical therapy, a religious connection, hospice care, or special care units for dementia patients? Do you want a place close to family and friends so they can easily visit?

Ask. Talk with friends, relatives, social workers, and religious groups to find out what places they suggest. Check with healthcare providers about which nursing homes they feel provide good care.

Call. Get in touch with each place on your list. Ask questions about how many people live there and what it costs. Find out about waiting lists.

Visit. Make plans to meet with the director and the nursing director. The Medicare Nursing Home Checklist (PDF, 178K) has some good ideas to consider when visiting. For example, look for:

  • Medicare and Medicaid certification
  • Handicap access
  • Residents who look well cared for
  • Warm interaction between staff and residents

Talk. Don't be afraid to ask questions. For example, ask the staff to explain any strong odors. Bad smells might indicate a problem; good ones might hide a problem. You might want to find out how long the director and heads of nursing, food, and social services departments have worked at the nursing home. If key members of the staff change often, that could mean there's something wrong.

Visit again. Make a second visit without calling ahead. Try another day of the week or time of day so you will meet other staff members and see different activities. Stop by at mealtime. Is the dining room attractive and clean? Does the food look tempting?

Understand. Once you select a nursing home, carefully read the contract. Question the director or assistant director about anything you don't understand. Ask a good friend or family member to read over the contract before you sign it.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services requires each State to inspect any nursing home that gets money from the government. Homes that don't pass inspection are not certified. Ask to see the current inspection report and certification of any nursing home you are considering.

For more information about nursing homes and tips for choosing, visit the Medicare website.

To read about paying for nursing home stays, see Paying for Care.

Learn about residential facilities, assisted living, and other long-term care options.

Read about this topic in Spanish. Lea sobre este tema en español.