Phyllis Staff, Ph.D.
Myths associated with selecting quality nursing
home care suggest quick and easy ways to identify quality care. In fact, relying
on these myths can lead to disastrous results. I have identified a few of the
most common myths in hopes of helping you avoid some of the problems commonly
found in many nursing homes.
1. The Smell Test
it repeatedly: "The best way to determine the quality of care a nursing home
provides is to be alert to bad odors when you visit the home."
seldom, if ever, works. Why? Nursing home administrators have heard the very same
advice. As a result, they are particularly sensitive to unpleasant odors in any
area that might receive visitors. Almost all will do their best to remove offensive
odors as quickly as possible, even when it means avoiding their primary responsibility
to their residents.
2. The Personal Recommendation
I heard a guest on a radio talk show state that the very best way to find great
nursing home care is to get recommendations from a friend. Like other myths, there
is a grain of truth here, but you must check whether your friend has had extensive
interactions with the nursing home recommended. Often that is not the case.
weekend I dealt with an emergency call from Jim, a friend who had placed his mother
in a nursing home recommended by a friend. Although she was recuperating from
a stroke, no nurse or aide checked on her condition for more than 14 hours. Jim
discovered her in the morning with many cuts and bruises, her bedsheets soaked
in blood. He was astonished that anyone would recommend such a poor care facility.
"My friend said her grandmother was in this particular nursing home,"
he reported. "So, I thought it would be good care."
often does your friend visit her grandmother?" I asked him.
didn't think to ask," he responded.
"And did you check the latest
survey for that nursing home?"
"No," he answered. "I
thought a personal recommendation was all I needed."
is now back in an area hospital. No one knows yet how much damage this experience
caused to her recovery.
3. You Get What You Pay For
is this statement less applicable than in nursing home care. In fact, I'd replace
it with another shibboleth -- "Buyer Beware." Our own research, encompassing
more than 6000 nursing homes and more than 100 assisted living facilities shows
no relationship between cost and quality of care. You may find quality care in
an expensive facility, or you may not! Similarly, the fact that a facility is
low-cost does not indicate whether you'll get poor, average, or quality care.
You have to do your homework. Relying on price as the sole indicator of quality
care can lead to disastrous results.
4. Adequate Staffing Equals Quality
A recent report by the Senate's Special Committee on Aging indicated
that quality care for a single nursing home resident requires more than three
hours each day of nursing and nursing aide time. However, statistical analysis
of the latest federal database on nursing home deficiencies indicates no relationship
between quality of care and staffing levels. This finding is consistent with a
number of university studies.
What should you look for, then, in nursing
home staffing levels?
There is a level below which nursing homes are so
understaffed that quality care can not be provided. I'd suggest that you not consider
any home providing a level less than two hours per day per resident. For levels
greater than this, I'd focus not on the number of hours available for care but
on the motivation of staff available to provide care. Those who are motivated
to care for the elderly will do so. Those who are motivated only by a paycheck
will probably provide shoddy care regardless of their numbers.
Well-Known Chain Will Provide the Best Care
This is another myth that
can lead to tragedy. Sometimes, well-known companies do provide top-quality care.
In other instances, however, a quick review of newspapers and magazines will show
you other companies with long records of legal troubles stemming from accusations
of neglect and abuse. One such company has been sued simultaneously by several
states' attorneys general.
How will you know? The company is not likely
to tell you, so you won't know unless you take the time to look into the company's
There you have it -- 5 myths exploded!
does work? There is no substitute for your own personal investigation. With a
little research, with personal visits to nursing homes before you sign anything,
you can avoid many of the difficulties that have come to those who relied on such
Phyllis Staff is an experimental psychologist and the CEO of The Best Is Yet.Net,
an internet company that helps seniors and caregivers find trustworthy residential
care. She is the author of How to Find Great Senior Housing: A Roadmap for Elders
and Those Who Love Them. She is also the daughter of a victim of Alzheimer's disease.
Visit the author's web site at http://www.thebestisyet.net.
Submitted: 14 February 2003 © 2003 Phyllis Staff, Ph.D.