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How to check the quality of a nursing home

Nursing Home Front PageThe San Antonio Express-News published an investigative story Sunday that revealed how some local nursing homes consistently neglect the elderly but are allowed to stay in business with little or no penalty.

Here are a few tips and resources we used for our story that might help you if you’re looking for a good nursing home for a loved one:

Related: How to research a property’s history using Bexar County’s free records search

  • Visit the home. Does it smell bad? Is it clean? Are staff friendly or detached? Are there activities? Is it bright and well-lit? How much of the outside world does the nursing home bring in? Do you live near the nursing home? One of the most important things you can do is visit your loved one constantly and check up on them.
  • In Texas, the agency that oversees nursing homes is DADS — the Department of Aging and Disability Services. DADS enforces regulations on behalf of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, a federal agency. Both agencies offer rankings for nursing homes that you can search. The rankings are a starting point that offer a glimpse at past problems. But as our story demonstrates, there are complaints against nursing homes that go unsubstantiated by DADS, when in fact the complaints have merit.
  • Check if the nursing home has been sued. Since tort reform was enacted in Texas, lawsuits against nursing homes have decreased dramatically. So it could be a red flag if a nursing home is getting sued frequently in personal injury or wrongful death cases. If you live in San Antonio, you can do a quick search for lawsuits at the Bexar County District Clerk’s Web site. In order to read the file you must visit the courthouse downtown.
  • In San Antonio, you can ask for a list of all police calls to a particular address. At some nursing homes, police have responded to calls about elderly residents who complained their money and jewelry were stolen, their checks were forged, and their personal information was used for fraudulent credit-card usage. Police have been called to break up fights between nursing home workers. Families sometimes call police if they suspect a loved one has been victimized by abuse. Nursing home personnel call police if a resident goes missing — if you see any missing person reports, you might want to ask what steps the home takes to keep track of residents.

    You’ll see many reports of “apparent-sudden death,” which are routine at a nursing home unless the officer sees bruising or other signs of trauma on the resident. Check to see if the report mentions whether the Bexar County Medical Examiner performed an autopsy. I found a few autopsy reports this way that determined a resident died from complications from a fall.