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What should you look for when choosing a nursing home?

Choosing a nursing home for a loved one is one of the most important decisions you'll ever make. Unfortunately, some people don't take the time to adequately research their options. A hospital may inform you of the imminent discharge of an elderly family member who will need care you can't provide. That can pressure you into finding a facility right away.

One attorney who works in nursing home reform advocacy says families can ask hospitals to keep the patient until they've found a facility with which they're comfortable. He says, "You have more time than you think . . . don't feel pressure to go to a place that you haven't vetted."

You can do some online research. Two websites, Nursing Home Compare, which is run by the federal government, and Nursing Home Inspect, run by nonprofit investigative journalism site ProPublica, are two good resources. South Carolina's GetCareSC lets you search facilities by city and zip code.

Visit each facility you're considering. Experts recommend going on a weekend or evening when facilities generally aren't fully staffed. Arrange to be there during a shift change and busy times like dinner. Joining the residents for a meal also lets you judge the quality of the food. If a facility pushes back against anything but a scheduled visit, that could be a red flag.

When you visit each nursing home, ask to see a copy of their emergency management plans. All facilities must have one available and also on file with emergency management officials. In states like ours where storms and heavy rains can knock out electricity and unbearable heat and humidity are common, nursing homes need to have backup generators to power air conditioning as well as the machinery that keeps many residents alive.

Many of our readers recall the tragic situation that unfolded in a Florida nursing home last year when it lost power in the midst of Hurricane Irma. Eight people died as a result.

No matter how conscientious family members are about choosing a nursing home and looking out for their loved ones who live there, they can't prevent every injury or illness caused by lack of appropriate care or intentional abuse. If you believe a loved one has been the victim of nursing home neglect or abuse, learn about your legal options for holding the facility and appropriate individuals accountable.

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