10 Things to Consider When Choosing a Care Home
Whether you’re currently in a crisis situation with a family member in hospital, or you are planning for the future, choosing a care home can be an incredibly difficult task. Unfortunately, most of us suddenly find ourselves in this situation without any prior knowledge or experience. Therefore, it is all too easy to make uninformed choices based on the wrong selection criteria, which can lead to serious repercussions in the future.

We have pulled together a step-by-step guide of the most important points to consider when choosing either a residential care home or a nursing home:

1. Find recommendations
If you have a family member in hospital, and they need permanent care, you may be given a long list of care homes by a Care Manager in social services. Therefore, you will need to create a shortlist. If you happen to know people living in a care home, then try asking them for their opinion (if possible), as well as their friends and family members. Try to select places with strong recommendations from real people rather than by being swayed by fancy looking websites. You could attend a local carer’s group, who often provide advice on local care homes – this will give you a true insight into both the good and the bad care settings in the area.

2. Care Quality Commission (CQC)
One of the most important factors when considering any care home is carefully checking reports issued by the Care Quality Commission. Commonly referred to as ‘CQC reports’, these documents provide a helpful breakdown and scoring system of how a care home is functioning in terms of standards. Warning: read these reports thoroughly because some homes are very creative in the way they display their overall score. An apparent score of 9.5/10 may seem great, but when you scour the report to find that certain aspects such as safety have been classed as ‘Requires Improvement’, you need to be very wary.

3. How do you arrange a visit?
Social services generally advise that you turn up unannounced, rather than arranging a visit to a care setting in advance. The care home should not refuse entry. The reason for this is to give you a real, accurate view of how the care home operates without any prior notice. Before you make your decision, we suggest multiple visits at different times of the day including mealtimes and evenings, if possible.

4. How does it look and smell?
A care home should not cost the earth to provide a level of dignity for its residents. Therefore, when you enter a care setting, does it smell strongly of disinfectant, urine or worse? A care home should feel homely and very different to a hospital ward. Observe the way the care home is decorated, but do not get too hung up on this – don’t be wooed by wallpaper and furnishings, as a pretty façade can hide a multitude of issues. The main concern should be cleanliness and hygiene, without an overwhelming stench of bleach, etc.

5. How is the home being managed?
Whenever you are visiting, check whether the manager is visible. They should appear proactive, supportive and able to answer all your questions. Check their policies, procedures, documentation and how they arrange resident’s care plans. How do they organise visits by the CPN, GP, dentist, optician, chiropodist or other health professionals? Remember – residents deserve the same expectation of seeing a health professional promptly just as anyone else. A care home should have a strong, experienced leader in charge who can be easily contacted, if needed. They should also be able to provide enough resources for care staff to be able to do their jobs properly.

6. People working in the home
This is another important aspect of finding the right home for a loved one. The staff attitude – not only towards residents but to each other – is a key indicator of how well the care home is run. If a care home appears to be under-staffed, and the care workers are over-worked, not properly trained or lack motivation, you are likely to face problems in the future. How well do they know the residents? Observe how staff interact with residents, and ask them if they take the time to find out residents’ histories, likes and dislikes.

One of our clients’ relatives experienced a serious case of negligence due to poor staffing and inadequate training. Therefore, it is crucial you have full confidence and trust in care and nursing staff.

7. People staying in the home
Ideally, it is useful to speak to residents to gather personal insights into the way the home is being run, but this may not be easy, especially if you are in a nursing or dementia care setting. Alternatively, while you are making your preliminary visits, try to speak to a resident’s family member to see if they have any insights they are happy to share with you.

8. Food and mealtime arrangements
Always ask to see a menu to check whether a varied choice of meals is available. Also, check when they serve breakfast, dinner (usually at midday), evening meal (usually a light supper) and any other refreshments throughout the day. Do they encourage people to eat together in dining or lounge areas, or do they leave people in their rooms to eat alone? If you have a family member who struggles to eat and drink, then ask staff how they support these needs – this is the reason why it is so important to visit at mealtimes.

9. What activities are on offer?
Care homes should be able to show you a timetable of their activities and, ideally, this should be a good mix to suit a range of interests. This is vital if you have a family member with dementia, as a lack of stimulus can add to a sufferer’s mental decline. For example, does the care home provide day trips? Do they cater for residents’ lifestyle, cultural or religious needs? How comfortable do they make residents’ feel?

10. Feedback and family interaction
Any care setting should have an open policy in the way it receives feedback and comments from both residents and relatives. In fact, it should both welcome and encourage full interaction with family members to ensure the dignity of the residents. Some places have interactive tablets in lobby areas, which send comments and complaints directly to managers. Ask the manager or care staff about their complaints procedure and carefully assess their response.

Finding the right care home is a big decision. Our advice is to fully research any care setting you are considering – the more research you do beforehand, the less likely you will face problems in the future.

Please visit our advice and resources page for further information and support.

If you are struggling to find a residential care home or a nursing home for a family member or friend, please get in touch to speak to our Independent Advocate for advice. We can help you research and select the right care home for your loved one.

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