How to Choose a Good Nursing Home (aka SNF) for Your Loved One

If you’re like most people, you probably think a nursing home is a nursing home is a nursing home. To begin with, I prefer not to use the word “nursing home” but will do so a few times today just to make things easier for you.=)  Typically, I use the word “SNF”(pronounced “sniff”) which means “skilled nursing facility” only because the word “nursing home” conjures up degrading images of old people sitting around in wheelchairs waiting for life to pass them by.  Remember, not every “old persons’ home” is a nursing home or SNF.  There’s independent living, assisted living, and then there’s skilled nursing, so please check out my post about The definition of a CCRC to review!

So before I begin, let’s define:

Nursing Home = Skilled Nursing Facility = SNF

How do you choose a good nursing home or skilled nursing facility for your grandparent/parent??

You might be in the position where you have to help your family choose a nursing home or SNF for your parent or grandparent. Maybe your grandpa was recently hospitalized and had a fall or a stroke or something of the sort and needs to go somewhere for short term rehab/subacute rehab.  Most SNFs or nursing homes provide short term/subacute rehab.

Or maybe you’re looking for a SNF because your loved one is seriously ill and the type of care that he or she needs is just too serious for him or her to be cared for at home.  SNFs or skilled nursing facilities have a nurse in the building 24/7 so if a person has more serious physical needs, a skilled nursing facility may be an option.

Whatever the case, you just want to make sure your grandparent or parent gets the best care, right??

One of the best tools that many people don’t know about is the “Nursing Home Compare” feature on

A few years back, Medicare decided to publish the ratings of all the skilled nursing facilities in the country.  GOOD IDEA! Now, nursing homes can no longer hide the fact that they may be providing really poor services!  With a five star rating system (5 stars being the best and 1 being the worst), all skilled nursing facilities are now rated based on health inspections, staffing, and quality measures.  So rather than simply considering the physical appearance and feel after touring a facility or basing your decision off of how nice the marketing director was, the Nursing Home Compare feature allows you to get a more objective idea of the quality of a nursing home/SNF.  I wouldn’t base your complete decision off of this tool and would recommend that one tours different SNFs too, but consider the Nursing Home Compare feature the Consumer Report resource for choosing nursing homes.

The best part is that you can search for skilled nursing facilities by name, location, county, state, etc and see not only the overall rating, but also look at the ratings for each category (health inspections, staffing, and quality measures.) Another nice feature is that you can compare a few nursing homes at a time.

You may be surprised by what you see! For example, there’s a nursing home that is nearby my old home and although it is located in the heart of wealthy Bethesda and one would expect it to have the best care, it has a 1 star rating, meaning I’d avoid that facility if at all possible.

A few tips:

1. Write a list of the SNFs you are considering.
2. Look up each SNF up using the “Nursing Home Compare” feature on and take the time to read the scoop on the nursing homes you are considering. You may be surprised by what you see.
3. Other things to consider when choosing a SNF is the location of the SNF, whether your loved one is covered under Medicare or Medicaid or private insurance, whether they have bed availability, etc. Depending on your loved one’s situation, Medicare or Medicaid may cover part of your loved one’s stay, but you want to figure this out first.  Some facilities also will not accept people with Medicaid (Medicare vs. Medicaid) so be sure that you find a facility that will take your grandparent or parent’s insurance type!
4. Get recommendations. A good referral is always helpful!

One more tidbit about nursing homes/SNFs

The truth is that most skilled nursing facilities in the U.S. are way understaffed.  And many families are often left disappointed because they expect their loved one to have personalized attention when at a nursing home.  In reality, a skilled nursing facility has staff working 24/7, but a nurse and nursing aide are assigned to a number of a residents, not just one and therefore, they are there every second to attend to your loved ones needs.  Even the best facilities are understaffed considering the type of care that each resident really needs.  It’s not uncommon that a resident needs to go to the bathroom and requests help, yet needs to wait awhile before someone actually comes to the rescue.


2 thoughts on “How to Choose a Good Nursing Home (aka SNF) for Your Loved One

  1. venerationproject says:

    hi Isabel – thanks for the great post. We emailed a while ago when we were just starting on the Veneration Project…we finally have our new site up ( and you're on our list of favorite blogs! It's a work in progress but we'd love your feedback – and for you to do a guest blog post!
    Adina & the Veneration team

  2. Isabel says:


    Thank you listing my site on the Venerations site. What an honor! I am all about what you're doing and love the site. Would love to do a guest post sometime.


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