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10 Tips for Choosing a Skilled Nursing Community

With more senior care options available today than ever before, choosing the right care community is more complex. If you’re looking for high-quality care for yourself or your loved one who needs long-term or short-term skilled nursing care, there are a variety of factors to consider. First, exactly what is a skilled nursing facility or the more outdated term, nursing home? Skilled nursing is a type of care for people with medical needs caused by chronic illness, injury or ongoing health conditions that require specialized care delivered by round-the-clock licensed nurses and therapists.

While many basic types of care and services are standard in any given skilled nursing facility, many other factors are drastically different — factors some might overlook. Comparing skilled nursing communities is a discerning process, but these tips should help narrow your selection.

1. See if the Community Meets Your Wants and Needs

Consider what’s important to you or your loved one. Quality of care should be the primary concern. Factors like special care units devoted to treating specific conditions and how the community creates treatment plans are extremely important. But beyond care, what does the environment offer? Do residents have private or semiprivate suites? Look at the amenities offered, too. Things like beauty salons, social programming, libraries and fitness centers can make the stay at the community immeasurably more enjoyable. Likewise, activities and entertainment play a large role, especially if you think you or your loved one will be in the neighborhood for a while.

2. Find Out about Additional Care Services

Skilled nursing care is most effective when it can meet individual needs beyond general care like assistance with daily activities. Does the facility have specialized care programs for specific illnesses or injuries? Does that care all take place within the community? Is therapy available? If so, what about occupational therapy, restorative therapy, pain management, assisted living or rehabilitation services? These kinds of additional care services can ultimately be the deciding factor in choosing the right skilled nursing facility.

3. Consider Location

Being near family almost always leads to better outcomes. Consider how convenient it will be for friends and family to visit regularly. How easy will it be to get together for holidays and special occasions? It’s also a good idea to find out if the community helps schedule visits and aids in transportation.

4. Ask about Food Preparation

If you or your loved one has dietary restrictions or nutrition requirements, make sure the care center can meet those needs. Is there a registered dietitian on staff? Do they serve high-quality meals with a lot of variety? What about dining accommodations? Do residents dine together in a common space, or do they usually eat separately? These are questions many people searching for a skilled nursing facility ask. Be sure to get the answers that fit your needs.

5. Check the Data

When searching for “skilled nursing facility near me,” you should always consult the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). CMS rates all certified skilled nursing centers on a 1-Star to 5-Star scale. They provide an overall rating and a separate rating for health inspections, staffing, and quality measures (QMs). Carefully reviewing each of these ratings is crucial. Specifically look for health inspection violations and penalties, which are all public record. The more information you’re able to glean from QM ratings, the more informed your choice will be.

6. Learn the Staff Ratio

Another important metric CMS evaluates is staffing. The staffing rating is based on the number of hours of care provided on average to each resident each day by nursing staff. A higher ratio generally, points to better and more specialized care. The more staff a community has, the more time they’re able to spend with each individual resident and develop trust. Also ask the leaders about staffing directly and whether they provide 24-hour licensed care. What about emergency services and security?

7. Talk with Loved Ones

For such an important move, the entire family should carefully discuss options and come to a decision together. A united front will help ease the stress of moving to a skilled nursing community. But don’t just limit it to family. Reach out for referrals from friends and family who have made the same decision you’re working through. Also be sure to check with your doctor or your loved one’s doctor to ask about places they suggest, or if the doctors have had experience working with a given skilled nursing facility.

8. Compare Costs

Shopping around is always good. The last thing you or your family needs is committing to a  community you can’t afford. Thoroughly read contracts from different skilled nursing communities you’re considering. Is there a community fee? If so, does it cover health care costs? Which services are included in the fee, and which are additional expenses? Look for Medicare and Medicaid certifications, and consult your insurance provider to ensure you or your loved one is covered as much as possible.

9. Tour the Community

To get a feel for which community best suits you or your loved ones, you have to see it for yourself as best as you can. Preferably in person, but many communities also offer detailed, high-resolution virtual tours on their websites. You can also take advantage of the virtual events communities offer, wherein they host a video conference chat with community team members and current residents to share their experiences and answer your questions.

Try to ask the kinds of questions about aspects you’d normally focus on if you were physically at the community. How clean are common spaces on a usual day? What does a resident’s average day look like? When do the dining venues close? Is there outdoor patio seating available? The deeper you dig, the more beneficial it’ll be to your search. 

10. Ask Every Question, and then Choose Carefully

If you’re unsure about any aspect of your contract, the community, or care, find the right people to ask and continue asking questions until you’re satisfied you have the answers you need. You should also do your own research online with sites like, senior care forums and online reviews.

Skilled Nursing at The Buckingham

Here at The Buckingham, we’re more than just a skilled nursing facility. We’re a Life Care community committed to continually meeting the needs and wishes of each resident. Our Medicare-certified skilled nursing care features a team of around-the-clock registered nurses and licensed practical nurses who work directly with residents and their families to achieve the best possible outcomes and quality of life. We’d love to tell you more about our community and help you find the right care for you or your loved one. Just contact us through our website, or call us anytime at 713-979-3090.