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Shopping for the right nursing home comes with a terrible amount of stress and uncertainty, but there are resources that can help. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) provides an invaluable online tool for researching and comparing nursing homes based on several key performance areas, and it recently released its latest rankings.

Nursing Home Compare is a database of every Medicare/Medicaid-certified nursing home in the U.S.—more than 15,00 in total—and is searchable by zip code or city. The search generates a list with a preliminary overview of every nursing home in the area, ranked up to five stars in four categories: health inspections, staffing, quality measures and overall rating.

You can select up to three nursing homes to compare, which places them side-by-side in a chart broken down by various informational categories. 

But the site also allows for deeper dives. Select any one nursing home and you can find in-depth information like the most recent health report, the dates of complaint inspections and citations, and the amount of time licensed nurses are able to spend on each resident a day (the total number of staff hours applied to the total number of residents). 

There’s also information on the number of hospitalizations, bed sores, flu and pneumonia cases, as well as statistics on patient weight loss, depression and physical restraints. With this latest update to the site, nursing homes that have been cited for abuse now have a red hand icon clearly visible next to their listing.

While Nursing Home Compare comprises every Medicare/Medicaid nursing home in the country, homes not on the list may be certified by the state, or may instead be certified as assisted living communities instead. (Read more about retirement living options here.)

Of course, there’s a lot to be said for firsthand experience. In addition to online research, families making a nursing home decision should visit prospective communities, interview the staff and residents, and make sure to ask all the questions they can think of. Athletic scouts have what they call “the eye test”: You can record all kinds of statistical information about a subject, but you also have to look at it yourself and see how it functions (or doesn’t) with your own eyes. 

Statistics and inspections are important, but make sure your nursing home passes the eye test, too. 

Go to Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare page to search nursing homes by region. 

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