Having shiny new buildings and a swish interior design is not a guarantee of high-quality care, nor does it ensure that the elderly receive the respect and dignity they deserve.

In the past, there was no standardised system for consumers to compare facilities based on defined quality measures. However, in December 2022, the federal government introduced the ‘Star Ratings’ system to make it easier for older people and their families to access and compare the quality and safety of residential aged care homes.

Under this system, all government subsidised aged care services in Australia receive an overall Star Rating between 1 and 5 stars, and performance ratings across four key areas: compliance, quality measures, residents’ experience, and staffing. The ‘quality measures’ category provides information on important aspects of care, such as falls, pressure injuries, physical restraint, unplanned weight loss, and medication management.

Service providers are required to report on their performance every three months.

While the Star Ratings provides an overall quality indicator, you need to do your own reaearch to find the right facility for your loved one.

Where to start?

By taking the time to do your research and asking essential questions, you can make a well-informed decision that will provide peace of mind for you and your loved one. Ultimately, the goal is to find a nursing home that can provide the necessary care and support to ensure your loved one’s well-being, safety, and happiness.

The first step in finding an aged care home is to visit the Government’s My Aged Care website. The website provides a search function that enables you to find aged care homes in your area. It also offers basic information about each facility, including the cost and Star Ratings. Additionally, you can find direct links to each facility’s website, which can provide more details and photos.

However, an in-person visit is the most effective way to gain a deeper understanding of the environment.

It’s recommended that you phone each facility to arrange a one-on-one tour. It’s also a good idea to visit on more than one occasion, at different times of the week and day, as staffing levels and resident activity can vary. Take the time to sit and observe, and ask yourself if you can imagine your loved one living there happily. By doing so, you can make an informed decision on the best aged care home for your family member.

Key considerations

The rest of this article provides guidance on what to look for in terms of staff, medical care, routines, activities, and observable considerations.

Staff

From 1 July 2023, residential aged care homes across Australia must have a registered nurse on-site and on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, unless granted a 12-month exemption.

From 1 October 2023 residential aged care homes will be required to provide at least 200 care minutes per resident per day, including 40 minutes with a registered nurse. Care minutes refer to the direct care time delivered to residents by registered nurses, enrolled nurses and personal care workers (including nursing assistants).

These measures have been put in place based on recommendations made by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.

Other questions you might have include:

  • What are the staffing arrangements overnight?
  • How are all staff – care, kitchen, administration, maintenance, etc – trained to understand the needs of elderly residents, including those with dementia?
  • Does the home have volunteers? What do they do, and how are they vetted?
  • What are staff turnover rates? Regular changes in staff can be upsetting or confusing for some residents, and could indicate deeper issues at the facility.
  • To what extent does the facility use agency staff, who may be called in at short notice and not be familiar with the residents and their needs?

Medical, health and wellbeing

Access to quality medical care can help prevent and manage medical conditions, ensure timely treatment of illnesses or injuries, and improve overall health outcomes. It can also help to improve the quality of life for residents by addressing physical and emotional needs. 

It’s important to understand the following:

  • What level of complex care can the staff deliver? Is there anything which cannot be provided?
  • Does the home have a visiting GP? How often do they visit?
  • Is your own doctor able to visit?
  • How are allied health services, such as physiotherapy, podiatry, optometry and dentistry provided.
  • What options and programs are available for people living with dementia?
  • What is the facility’s policy on the use of restraints and sedation, particular for residents with dementia? Do they seek consent from the family?
  • How does the facility ensure each resident receives appropriate, everyday health and wellbeing care, such as brushing teeth, skin care, promoting continence, and managing incontinence?
  • How does the facility promote mobility, which is so important to reduce the risk of falls and reduced muscle strength?

Routines

Moving into residential care can be a difficult transition for seniors who value their independence and autonomy. The daily routine in an aged care facility plays a crucial role in ensuring the well-being of its residents.  

It’s essential to establish a routine that accommodates the residents’ needs and preferences. This includes considering factors such as bedtime, meal times, and visitation policies. Ideally, the routine should not be rigid, and residents should have the freedom to choose when they want to sleep, wake up, shower, and eat.

Unfortunately, some facilities prioritise their own convenience over the residents’ preferences. For instance, it’s not uncommon for residents to be woken up before dawn for their showers. While this may be convenient for the facility, it can be distressing for the resident. It’s important to consider how such routines affect the residents and to make adjustments that promote their well-being and comfort.

Activities and lifestyle

Social connection is a vital aspect of a fulfilling and meaningful life, particularly for older adults. Residential aged care facilities should prioritise creating a sociable environment for their residents. In fact, many older Australians find that moving into a nursing home actually reduces their social isolation, as they are surrounded by a community of like-minded individuals and have access to a range of activities.

It’s recommended that you speak with the social coordinator to explore the types of activities available to residents and whether residents have any input into the activities program.

It is also important to consider how the facility will cater to specific hobbies and interests. For example, if your loved one enjoys music, gardening, woodwork, or playing cards, ask how the facility can support these interests.

Additionally, find out how the facility celebrates birthdays and observes religious or cultural events. This can be an important part of maintaining a sense of community and connection with others.

Things you can observe

When visiting a facility, it’s important to pay attention to your surroundings using all your senses. Take note of what you see, hear, feel, smell, and even taste. Here are some suggestions to help you make the most out of your observations:

  • Sight: Look around and observe the cleanliness and organisation of the facility. Take note of any potential safety hazards or areas that may need improvement.
  • Hearing: Listen carefully to the sounds in the facility. Are they loud or quiet? Cheerful or melancholy? Are there any unusual or concerning noises?
  • Touch: Pay attention to the textures and surfaces of the environment. Are they smooth or rough? Do the rooms and common areas feel homely or sterile? Are there any areas that are unusually warm or cold?
  • Smell: Notice any odors in the air. Are they pleasant or unpleasant? Do they indicate any potential problems such as leaks or other issues that may need attention?
  • Taste: It’s important to pay attention to the taste and quality of the food. This can give you insight into the level of care and attention to detail provided by the facility.

Whether you are beginning your search or have already started, there are several critical factors to consider when selecting a nursing home. Some of these include the quality of care, staffing levels, location, amenities, and costs. Undertaking thorough research and asking the right questions can provide valuable insight into the facility’s operations, culture, and resident care. Ultimately, this will help provide peace of mind that the chosen facility offers the best possible living environment for your loved one.

General disclaimer

This content is intended only to provide a summary and general overview of the subject matter covered. It is not intended to be comprehensive nor does it constitute advice. We attempt to ensure that the content is accurate and current but we do not warrant the content nor its currency. You should seek professional advice before acting or relying on any of the content.

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