Choosing a nursing home for a loved one is an important decision many families have to make, and it is one that can prove to be quite difficult. It can feel overwhelming when you are faced with moving a loved one to a long-term care facility that ensures mental, physical and social needs are met while weighing the necessary level of care along with the value of associated costs and proximity to family and friends who will provide support. Perhaps of main concern is the safety of the resident, a concern heightened by countless stories of elder abuse or neglect. Netflix even depicts this concern in their comedy thriller “I Care a Lot.”

In recent news, there have been reports of abuse and neglect inside nursing homes, sometimes even those with high ratings on the “star” system – a rating system that is based on the quality of care in homes. But that system was exposed in a recent investigation by The New York Times to be misleading at times. It turns out the self-reported data from nursing homes – which contributes to their overall rating – was occasionally downplaying serious cases of patient abuse and neglect. What stands out from this investigation is that “Of the more than 3,500 homes rated with 5 stars, over 2,400 were cited for problems with infection control or patient abuse” (Silver-Greenberg and Gebeloff).

In addition to nursing homes themselves coming under fire, states are being held accountable for underreporting deaths of residents. In January 2021, the State of New York was found to be undercounting deaths by the thousands, reporting in their official number that 8,505 long-term care residents died from the virus when later it was revealed the true count was at least 12,743.

Worrying about data like this can make choosing a nursing home that much more difficult for families. So, how does one decide which facility is right for their loved one? There are several important steps along the path to making this decision.

1. Do the research

Ask questions. What kind of nursing and/or physical care does the home provides? How many staff are on-duty at a time? What amenities are offered? How many residents live there? And what is the price of the facility?

Check out the reviews. More often than not, you can find testimonials for any business on Google, Yelp or Facebook. These comments are useful as they generally represent unvarnished views about the facilities that you won’t find on their website.

Talk to friends and family. Chances are, you’re not the first person you know who has needed to shop around for the right nursing home. Word-of-mouth experience is a great way to research a facility.

2. Schedule an in-person visit

Check out the nursing home yourself. Going in person to check out a potential home for your loved one is the best way to tell if it’s a right fit.

Know what to look for. While meeting with the director of the facility is great, be observant of how residents look – do they appear sickly, helpless, lonely or restrained? These could be warning signs of mistreatment. Observe interactions between nurses and residents, and pay attention to factors like odors, which can indicate a lack of cleanliness.

Talk to residents. Start a conversation with a resident to get their own take on how they’re being treated.

3. Stop by unannounced (if possible, as protocols vary)

Doing another visit to the facility without calling ahead can reveal a lot. Washington facilities that are open have some ongoing requirements for indoor visits, such as the visitor or resident being fully vaccinated against COVID-19, so be sure to check out the facility’s guidance before visiting. Observe the same factors and note any differences you may have seen from your scheduled visit. And be sure to check out the dining facilities during mealtimes to observe the quality of food residents are given.

Once you’ve decided on a nursing home for your loved one, your involvement should not end there. Visit as much as possible and keep communicating with your loved one regularly, to help quickly spot signs of potential issues. Even with the sharp decrease of in-person visits allowed during the pandemic, it is imperative to get creative with checking in. The use of “granny cams” in a resident’s room has been widely discussed, especially over the past year. The State of Washington allows relatives to install a camera that they control, provided they alert the facility, receive approval from the residents of the room, and provide notices to caregivers that a camera is present.

Even after taking the necessary steps to ensure safety, instances of nursing home neglect and abuse do still occur. If you have reason to believe your loved one is being mistreated, it may be time to consult a lawyer to determine your best options.

GLP Attorneys has represented wrongfully injured clients across Washington State for over three decades. Our core values – commitment, creativity, compassion and collaboration – are what motivate us to get the results others cannot.