Applying for long-term Medi-Cal to help pay for a nursing home can be an arduous process—a process I’ve written about in many past blog posts. But one part of the process I haven’t spent much time discussing is how to choose the right Medi-Cal qualified nursing home for you or your loved one. To remedy that, here are five steps to find the nursing home that’s right for you.
Know What’s Available
Your first step is obvious: You need to figure out what Medi-Cal qualified nursing home options exist in your area. You can find this out in several ways:
- Ask friends and family for recommendations. If you know someone who has used long-term Medi-Cal in the past, ask for a recommendation.
- Look up nursing homes online. You can find a list of nursing homes in your area on the California Department of Public Health’s (CDPH) Health Facilities Search. Simply click on the box next to “Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF)” under step 1; enter your zip code, city, or county under step 2; and click the Search button under step 3. Medicare and some private organizations also host lists of local nursing homes.
- Contact your local CDPH district office. You can request information on local nursing homes directly from the CDPH. Here in Sonoma County, we’re served by the Redwood Coast/Santa Rosa District Office, which you can contact at (707) 576-6775 or (866) 784-0703.
While some of the resources above include information about whether a nursing home accepts long-term Medi-Cal, be sure to confirm that with each nursing home directly when you call to schedule a visit.
Research Reputations Online
Once you have a list of nursing home options in hand, you will want to research their reputations. You can do this by talking to people familiar with the nursing homes, of course, but you can also do it online. All three of the websites linked to above are good resources for this.
Visit and Observe
Online research is a great starting point, but it’s no substitute for visiting nursing homes in person. Visiting allows you to experience the nursing home’s atmosphere and observe how residents are treated. During your visit, consider the following:
- How do residents and staff interact? Does there seem to be hostility or fear? Do the residents seem uncomfortable? Does the staff seem responsive to residents’ needs?
- How do residents interact with each other? Do residents seem friendly to one another, or distant?
- How do residents interact with their visitors? Residents may give off more clues about how comfortable they are to visitors they know than to other residents, staff, or visitors they don’t know.
- How does the facility appear? Is it clean and well-maintained? Does it look and feel more like a home, or a hospital?
If your initial visit is positive, make a subsequent, unscheduled visit at a different time of the day. That can help you get a fuller picture of what life is like in the nursing home.
Talk to Residents and Staff
During your visit, take some time to speak to nursing home staff. Find out as much as you can about the nursing home. What is the ratio of residents to staff? What activities are offered for residents? What are the admissions criteria? You can also request a copy of the nursing home’s admission contract so you’ll have time to review it in the comforts of your home.
In addition, you should talk to residents when staff are not around. If they have any complaints, they may be more open to discuss them if staff members are not hovering nearby.
Understand What You’re Agreeing To
When you or a loved one is admitted to a nursing home, you or your family will be provided a stack of paperwork. Among those documents will be an admission contract. Resist the urge to simply initial and sign wherever you’re told to. Read the agreement carefully, and make sure you understand everything you’re agreeing to.
Be especially watchful for arbitration agreements. These are agreements that waive your or your loved one’s right to sue the nursing home in the event of an injury. With an arbitration agreement, the nursing home can require such disputes to be submitted to a private arbitrator for resolution, and not to a judge and jury.
If the nursing home includes an arbitration agreement, ask if signing it is a condition for admission. If it isn’t, decline to sign it. You can always agree to arbitration later if you think it’s a better option.
When Looking for a Nursing Home, You Only Get Out What You Put In
The above steps may sound like a lot of homework, and they are. But finding the right nursing home for you or your loved one is important, so you should spend the time necessary to get it right. Do the research, go visit nursing homes, and—most importantly—ask questions. You and your loved ones will be thankful you put in so much effort ahead of time.