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Common Myths About Nursing Homes

For seniors and their families, the prospect of becoming one of the 1.5 million people who reside in a nursing home can be scary. If you haven’t had experience with nursing homes, you probably don’t even realize how little the majority of people know about day to day life inside one. A lot of public knowledge is based on rare newsworthy occurrences or common misconceptions. What are the realities of moving into a nursing home? Once you take a look at the facts, nursing homes aren’t so scary. They’re simply a place for seniors to get round-the-clock medical care that might not be available to them in a traditional assisted living facility. If you’re worried about your future or the well-being of a loved one, you should reassess what you think you know about nursing homes.

1. Nursing Homes Aren’t Hospitals

Nursing HomeYes, nursing homes employ nurses. They also rely on specialists who can provide medical care to patients, but it’s not a clinical environment. The “home” part of nursing home is always emphasized by the staff, and patients are part of a community where they can meet other people and engage in activities that are designed to help them be happy and healthy. Nursing homes offer games, outings, art and music classes, exercise, and many of the other things that seniors in assisted living facilities enjoy.

2. Nursing Homes Aren’t Permanent

Many seniors have the understandable fear that if they’re moved into a nursing home, it means they’re going to die there. And it’s very possible that some nursing home patients might be suffering from terminal conditions and may eventually be transferred to hospice care. But for a great number of patients, nursing homes are not a permanent residence, and they definitely don’t mean you’re going to die. If you’re recovering from illness or surgery, you can receive nursing home care for a few months before you return home. For some patients, it’s a long-term option, but for others, it’s just a temporary way to get medical assistance.

3. Nursing Home Patients Have Rights

Patient’s basic rights are never taken away when they enter a nursing home. In fact, nursing home residents’ rights are guaranteed by the government, including the right to dignity, privacy, and the ability to manage their own money and care. In a nursing home, a patient has the right to see their own doctor if at all possible, and they also have the right to refuse any medications or procedures. This is part of the Nursing Home Reform Act, which was passed in 1987 to protect against abuse and neglect in nursing home facilities.

4. Nursing Homes are Covered by Insurance

The cost of transitioning a senior to a nursing home can be quite high. If they have Medicaid, their coverage will pay for the first 20 days and then pay a significant portion of the next 100. But if permanent medical care is required, it often depends on a patient’s insurance policy as to what is exactly covered. This is another reason that nursing homes aren’t always a permanent situation. Many patients can switch to home care or figure out other options that work best for them. Generally a Long-Term Care Insurance policy is necessary to cover longer stays in a nursing home. This type of policy generally covers things that are not covered by health insurance, Medicare or Medicaid. You qualify for coverage under a long term care policy when you need help with the normal activities of daily living or when you need help because you have severe cognitive impairment. Generally, the policy has a list of activities like bathing yourself, toileting, eating, etc. and if you can’t perform a certain number of these tasks yourself you will be eligible for benefits.

Unfortunately, most long term care policies have a waiting period similar to a deductible before you can begin collecting. This means that even though you meet the eligibility requirements you still have to pay for care before your benefits begin. The waiting period may be 20 to 120 days. Obviously, the longer the waiting period the lower the premium. In some cases the option may be available to select zero waiting days when covered services are provided in the home in accordance with a Plan of Care.

5. All Nursing Homes Are Alike

Nursing home care varies widely as do their costs. Those that take primarily Medicaid patients are often crowded with narrow halls and two or more residents to a small room and provide a minimum of care. On the other end of the spectrum, some nursing homes can appear more like country clubs with large private rooms for the residents and plenty of caring staff. In nursing homes, like everything in life, you get what you pay for. So even though there are government mandated minimum care requirements, many overcrowded nursing homes are pushing the limit. So if you are considering one for a loved one be sure to check it out carefully. Some are wonderful places full of happy caring people and some are staffed primarily by overworked aides who are paid minimum wage and do not have your loved one’s best interests at heart. So it is important to choose carefully, visit at different times of day including meal times and mid-day.  Are the residents lined up in the halls in wheelchairs? Or are they in recreation rooms? Don’t just talk to the admissions person talk to the staff as well. Do the workers look frazzled? Do the residents look content? Of course they are ill and away from their families, so they may not be bubbling with joy, but you should be able to tell the difference between a nice nursing home and a cheap one rather quickly.

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