Queens has the second-largest older adult population of any county in the state, following Brooklyn, according to a 2019 Center for an Urban Future study, which recorded more than 353,500 residents over the age of 65.

With the borough growing older, it’s no surprise it is home to a plethora of senior citizen homes and rehabilitation centers, but how does one find the most skilled nursing for their aging loved one? The decision can be overwhelming with so many choices available, but the best option for your loved one’s specific needs can be narrowed down after considering a few key points.

Rating reviews

Linda Spiegel, the director of public affairs for Margaret Tietz Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Jamaica, recommends that researching reviews on nearby nursing homes should be the searcher’s first consideration.

“There are state websites to see what the rating is,” said Spiegel, suggesting Nursing Home Compare through medicare.gov/nursinghomecompare as a top source. “A five-star rating is the best, and they also post an audit online so you can see whether they received any deficiency.”

The site ranks the nursing homes based on health inspections, staffing, quality measures and overall rating from 1 to 5 stars. Margaret Tietz, along with every other senior citizen care and rehabilitation center in the state, is subject to annual inspections to ensure that they keep with state standards and guidelines.

Other sites offer reviews and ratings similar to Nursing Home Compare, but some come with more specific details about a home, such as nursinghomerating.org’s statistic tracker. The website keeps count of available beds, whether the home is a Continuing Care Retirement Community or a Special Focus Facility, whether it is fully sprinklered and more.

Spiegel, who has worked for the care center for over 30 years, says that through this type of research one can easily weed out which type of facility offers programs that cater to a loved one’s specific needs, which is important when considering the difference between short-term and long-term care facilities and ones that offer both.

“Short-term patients are still considered patients, and many facilities have large short-term components,” explained Spiegel. “Many facilities take on short-term rehab because they’re vying for the same beds, and the seniors return to assisted living, which are like senior hotels.”

Assisted living facilities offer housekeeping service, meals and on-site doctors, but residents maintain the freedom to come and go as they would in their home.

“If you’re medically compromised that’s not an option for you. When they improve, sometimes rehab stays turn into long-term care, and we’ll try to keep them with us. Some people stay with us a few years,” continued Speigel.

Paying a visit

After compiling a list of nursing homes and rehabilitation centers, Spiegel says, the next step is the most important one: visiting each facility to get a firsthand look at what it has to offer.

“We have so many choices [of nursing homes], the best thing for people to do is see the rating and then visit the facility,” Spiegel said. “Go in there, see it, meet the personnel ... the rating is important, but going to see the equipment and speaking to the therapist to see if the condition of your loved one can be met appropriately is vital.”

A visit is a good chance to evaluate the conditions your loved one will be exposed to every day during his or her stay, so pay attention to the details:

Are there programs to keep residents active during their down time?

Is there natural lighting, or an option to spend time outside the facility?

Are residents given privacy, even if they do share a room?

Does the facility look well kept and clean?

What do the visiting hours look like?

Is safety a priority of the facility, such as providing handrails and clearly marking exit signs?

Is the menu flexible and does it offer an array of options?

Does the facility honor religious practices of its residents?

“Everyone has their own needs and each facility has a responsibility to meet those needs and be flexible,” said Spiegel. “It’s very important to know that they have care plans so you know you’re loved one is taken care of ... When you’re elderly and fragile you need that help.”

Spiegel also mentioned the importance of how comfortable the facility can make the resident feel, a tough thing to do when they’re living with doctors and nurses.

“Most of our residents are over 80, and we do as much as we can to get them back to their status and back home,” Speigel said referring to short-term care patients. “Everyone wants to be home if they can be. We outline goals and see if they can be met safely. That’s primary.”

Speaking with staff

When paying a visit to the facility, make sure to sit down and meet with those who potentially could be interacting with your loved one on a daily basis.

“Families considering senior living should speak with the key leadership when visiting, including the executive director, events and activities director and healthcare and nursing management to get a picture of care and service approaches,” said John Hartmayer, senior vice president of Atria Senior Living, which has locations in Forest Hills and Kew Gardens.

Facilities typically have a wide-ranging staff that your loved one will encounter in his or her everyday life. Although it may be impossible to meet the entire staff, it would be wise to sit down and speak with as many representatives as possible before making any important decisions. Nursing homes usually have health teams consisting of physicians, nurses, therapists, dieticians, social workers and service workers, as well as admissions department teams, recreational directors, volunteers and more.

“It’s also important for searching families to ask providers about quality, including their internal quality measures, not to mention the tenure of its leadership team and longevity of its staff,” said Hartmayer.

Setting goals with the staff for your loved one is critical — can the facility aid, and provide the means, for your loved one to get the care he or she needs?

Hartmayer and the Atria community believe that creating a comfortable and positive environment leads to accomplishment and healing, and that the environment is a direct reflection of the staff.

“A growing body of research shows that those who live in a caring, connected environment enjoy greater health and well-being than those who are isolated,” Atria’s mission states, a vital aspect to consider when choosing a nursing home.

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