What to Look for When Choosing a Nursing Home

If you’re researching which nursing home is best for your relative, you can find detailed information on the Medicare website about any Tennessee nursing home that is Medicare- and Medicaid-certified. But even when a nursing home seems to be a good fit for your relative, it’s always best to visit a few homes in person before making a choice.

From years of experience representing people who have suffered abuse and neglect in nursing homes, John R. Colvin knows what families may want to consider when they tour nursing homes. And if your loved one should suffer mistreatment in a nursing home, call our office for a free consultation: 931-962-1044

Safety and Security

Nursing home residents with limited mobility may be at heightened risk of a fall and unable to take evasive action in an emergency. Here are some questions to consider as you visit nursing homes:

  • Does the home have handrails and grab bars?

All hallways and stairways should be equipped with handrails that are firmly affixed to the wall. Bathrooms should have grab bars in the shower – ideally on each wall – as well as outside the bathtub and next to the toilet.

  • How does the home secure the premises?

Ask what security measures exist to control access to the building. Is there a check-in process to protect residents from unauthorized visitors, and security cameras outside the main entrance? If your loved one suffers from dementia, ask how the home prevents residents from leaving the facility on their own.

  • Is the staff trained how to respond to an emergency?

Nursing homes should have an emergency preparedness plan that defines procedures for protecting residents, should an extreme weather event or fire occur. Check to make sure fire exits are accessible and clearly marked, and that the home is equipped with fire alarms and extinguishers.

  • What is the process for lifting and moving residents?

Many nursing home residents suffer from injuries caused by improper lifting. A lifting machine may help protect residents; however, the machine often causes anxiety and discomfort for residents. If the home uses lifting machines, ask what training staff must complete before using them.

Cleanliness and Sanitation

Every year, between 1 and 3 million serious infections occur in nursing homes, accounting for roughly 380,000 deaths. Those infections include antibiotic-resistant skin infections, influenza, and norovirus, a fast-spreading gastrointestinal illness. A clean and sanitary nursing home can help prevent the rate and spread of infection.

Check to make sure:

  • Restrooms are clean and well maintained. Hand soap should be near all sinks, and faucets should be in good working order, with hot – but not scalding – water.
  • The home has a written staff policy regarding hand-washing. Nursing home workers may be giving injections, inserting feeding tubes, and helping residents with toileting, so hand-washing is essential for preventing infections.
  • Fixtures and building components are in good condition. Burnt-out light bulbs, stained walls, or peeling floor tiles may indicate that a home is lax about regular cleaning and maintenance.

Quality of Life

A nursing home should encourage residents to leave their rooms, interact with each other and staff, and participate in activities. If you’re visiting a nursing home and notice the residents are all inside their rooms, that’s a sign that the staff probably isn’t concerned about the well being of residents.

Other factors that impact quality of life are:

  • Food and dining. One of the top five resident complaints is about nursing home food – specifically, its low quality, the lack of menu options, and poor presentation. If you’re visiting during dining hours, you can learn a lot about whether residents like the food by observing their behavior in the dining room.

Ask whether the menu includes fresh fruits and vegetables, and whether a nutritionist or dietician influences meal plans. Malnutrition is a serious health problem in nursing homes and often occurs when menus are unappetizing and food lacks essential vitamins and minerals.

  • Privacy. When residents close the door to their room, staff should knock before entering. They should also provide as much privacy as possible during    bathing and medical procedures.
  • Self-determination. Residents should be permitted to make decisions about their own medical care, their daily schedule, and their participation in activities.


An understaffed nursing home may create a greater risk for medical errors and resident abuse or neglect. While federal law establishes the minimal acceptable staffing level for nursing homes, it does not specify an ideal ratio for staff-to-residents.

Common signs of understaffing include:

  • Visibly frazzled workers who seem to be in a rush
  • Staff speaking tersely or disrespectfully to residents
  • Disorderly clerical areas or nurse’s stations
  • Ringing telephones that go unanswered
  • Patients in wheelchairs who seem to be “parked” in hallways
  • Spills or other messes in common areas.

Nursing home workers should have enough time to regularly interact with residents, not just when residents need assistance or medical attention. Workers should also be able to calmly respond to resident complaints and resolve any conflicts that arise.

Peace of Mind

When you leave your loved one in the care of others, you want some assurance that your relative will be happy, healthy, and secure in their care. But sometimes, nursing home deficiencies and negligent workers fail to protect residents from illnesses and injuries.

If your loved one has been harmed in a nursing home, you need someone on your side. Contact us today using our online form, or at 931-962-1044, to request your no-obligation consultation.

Licensed to Practice in Tennessee & Alabama