How to Choose a Quality Nursing Home

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 or to an in-home care facility. 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 nonprofit 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.

“A lot of people like to select a facility near their location so they can visit more often,” said Christine Stanford, senior director of operations and finance at Loretto.

She encourages touring the nursing home under consideration and visiting the floor where their loved one would live.

“Understand staffing ratios,” Stanford said. “Meet the staff. Selecting a nursing home is a combination of things. Use the resources from the state Department of Health. Ask about staff continuity and longevity. That person develops a relationship with the resident and the family to learn their preferences. Being a CNA or nurse in long-term care is a calling. It’s typically someone who finds purpose in improving an elderly person’s life.”

Stephen Hanse, president and CEO of The New York State Health Facilities Association, Inc. in Albany, also 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. By planning together beforehand, families can make more informed decisions.

Resources to Find the Right Nursing Home



Joint Commission:

NYS Department of Health: