What Qualities to Look for in Nursing Homes and Assisted Living Facilities
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What Qualities to Look for in Nursing Homes and Assisted Living Facilities

How to tour and investigate an assisted living facility or nursing home to ensure your family member's health and well-being.

As a country we are getting older and many of us are facing tough choices regarding our parents and grandparents health care choices. In order to ensure the highest level of quality and care for your loved one, you need to verify a facility's credentials and the qualifications of the staff.

An assisted living facility provides care for individuals who can no longer live independently but do not necessarily need round-the-clock care. An assisted living facility is not a nursing home and it cannot provide the kind of specialized medical care your loved one may require. While there are many safeguards in place, there are many more care-giving roles at the facility that are not required by law to be provided.

First and foremost, inquire about the hiring requirements of the senior caregivers and what their daily tasks are. Inquire as to what training they have received. Since you are making a decision concerning the care of a loved one you can never be too careful so before your tour, prepare yourself with a look into how an assisted living facility provides care.

• RNs/LPNs - An assisted living facility is not required by law to have registered nurses and licensed practical nurses on staff or even on call.

Nurses are often required to assess the health care needs of residents in coordination with the administrator and the resident's physician, and often act as a liaison between the two parties. Most often, they are responsible for developing a plan or outline of care for each resident, if one is required, and carry out these tasks on a daily basis. They may also train new hires that have an active part in the resident's health plan.

As RNs and LPNs are licensed medical caregivers, only they can administer or distribute medication to residents. While many facilities do have RNs on call, it makes administration and distribution of medication to residents harder, as they are the only ones able to perform these tasks. If your loved one requires round-the-clock care and supervision from senior caregivers, a skilled nursing facility may be a more practical option.

• CNAs/General Caregivers - Certified Nursing Assistants and general caregivers are hired to bathe, dress, feed, and tend to residents on a daily basis. While CNAs have extensive training and education, hands-on experience, and a considerable subject knowledge base, general senior caregivers often receive on-the-job training, learning as they go. They may be enrolled in a CNA program and work as a general caregiver while in school.

In addition, some facilities require specialization in key areas such as dementia and Alzheimer's disease. CNAs and general senior caregivers are the people that interact with residents every day and often provide them with much-needed social and emotional support.

• Administrator/Director of Marketing and Sales - Initially, you'll speak with the administrator or a director of marketing and sales. They will guide you through the entire process, conduct a tour of the facility, and answer all of your questions regarding the senior caregivers and staff. The administrator oversees all operations within an assisted living facility, keeping track of the staff, and monitoring residents' needs and well-being. He or she is responsible for the training of all licensed and unlicensed staff and senior caregivers on the premises. The Administrator is licensed by the state and must receive ongoing training to retain that license. Nursing homes are the most highly regulated portion of the long-term care continuum. Administrators of nursing facilities must assure they meet extensive state and federal requirements along with numerous other directives such as the Life Safety Code.

The director of marketing and sales, on the other hand, promotes the assisted living facility, ensuring the proper advertising messages are relayed regarding the approach to resident care, amenities, and services. He or she will speak with you to discuss the features and benefits of the facility as well as pricing, on-site senior caregivers, and any other perks. They are not licensed or regulated, but will have in depth knowledge of the facility and the residents’ needs.

• Activity Coordinator - The duties of the activity coordinator are an important part of your family member’s daily routine at an assisted living or skilled nursing facility. These individuals provide mind-challenging and invigorating games and therapies that help residents get moving and thinking. The activity coordinator keeps aging minds thinking cognitively and aging bodies moving actively with singing, outdoor adventures, movie nights, shopping trips, and other activities or events.

During your tour, observe some of the in-house activities to get a feel for what residents do each day. Ask to look at the activity schedule for the week or month. Some activities will repeat on a daily or weekly basis, but there should also be several seasonal activities included in the calendar. The activity coordinator at an assisted living facility is also responsible for special programs and social events that occur outside of the scope of daily activities.

• Dietician/Chef - The makeup of a senior's diet is much different, and meals require elements that help in maintaining energy levels, immune system effectiveness, and weight maintenance. Though a dietician may not always be on staff, if one is, he or she will be able to offer helpful insights into the necessary requirements of a senior diet, including reduced sodium, increased fiber and calcium, and more protein, all while supervising calorie intake.

Besides proper food handling and sanitation requirements, a head chef at an assisted living facility is often required to have line experience, efficient organization and time management skills, and a basic understanding of preparing food for the senior stomach.

The caregivers at an assisted living facility promote interaction, but are not capable of caring for a loved one in poor health. Usually a well-established facility will offer a suitable place for your senior family member since they have been in business over a long period of time and have been able to work out any staffing or organizational issues. The most important thing to keep in mind when finding the right place for your loved one is that it offers quality assistance from caregivers and promotes for relative’s welfare, health, and happiness.

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