Using your senses to choose a health care facility
by Sue Lanza
Savvy health care shoppers have resources when searching for the perfect facility for their loved one: lists, trick questions to ask, special times to visit, and reports on how many stars a facility received. Yes, these resources can help but from all that information gathering, has the consumer really found what they need to make an informed decision?
I think not. Is it really important to know that the staffing pattern on the night shift? Maybe, but if you don't know what it should be, how valuable is that information? Will that let you know that your mother will receive good care? Try an approach that works from your intuition level where you take in aspects of your tour, process the info against your five senses and then come up with your decision.
Use Your Senses to Evaluate a Health Care Facility
- Use Your Eyes. What is your first impression when you pull into the campus of the facility? Is the property upkeep in place or is there trash piled up? Is the front entrance welcoming or does it have an institutional feel? As you continue along your tour, do you see residents in natural settings interacting or does it feel staged? Do the residents look well groomed and are they smiling? Do staff members seem harried and rushed? Do the building, equipment and furnishings look clean?
- Take a Deep Breath. Shortly before or right after you entered the front door, you may have noticed a faint smell. Every place has its own unique odor, even your own home. Is it lunch cooking? A perfumery smell that covers up something else? Is it a slightly unpleasant odor? A good facility should have minimized unpleasant smells. You might stumble upon an unpleasant odor or two on your tour and this is normal. Resident bowel and bladder habits vary. Odors occur but they should be quickly controlled and not greet your nose at the entrance.
- Get Touchy-Feely. Do you see the staff and residents interacting through touch or does it seem like an "us or them" atmosphere? You can do a touch test yourself--are the handrails or surfaces sticky to the touch? Are there stations available for you to use hand sanitizer or wash your hands?
- Listen Up. Is the environment flooded with noise from overhead pages, staff yelling directions to one another or resident distress? If you aren't sure, just close your eye for a moment and listen to the environment your loved one could be in. Is appropriate music playing? Can you barely hear yourself think?
- Take a Taste. If you feel comfortable, you can ask to stay for a meal and do your own taste test. Does the meal look appealing, smell good, and most important, taste good? You didn't call ahead so this is probably a good representation of what this facility would offer.
Choosing a Health Care Facility: Adding Everything Together
Now mix all your sensory experiences from your tour together, add in a reality check from your 6th sense (the voice we all have in our heads, but often choose to ignore) and you have the formula to make an informed decision. Does your gut feeling tell you to run for the hills or pull up a chair and find out more?
If the facility passed the sensory test, now is the time to drag out your checklists and questions. You should be in a much better state of mind to listen to the answers.