Choosing the right care home for a parent or a relative that you love – can be one of the most difficult decisions you may have to make.

A recent Panorama programme highlighting the abuse that went on in a care home demonstrated how important it is to get it right.

I had been a care home manager myself for more than 17 years – but on the day I received a call from the hospital in which my mum was a patient, telling me that I needed to find a care home placement for her – I found I was faced with one of my most daunting challenges.

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The fact that I had been working as a professional in the care home industry made no difference; it was totally different being on the other side of the fence!

Prior to my Mum’s fall – which had broken her hip and made her immobile – she had bravely soldiered on at home, continuing to remain independent and near to her friends. My Mum had also been a nurse herself.

I knew it was imperative that I had to find a place where my mum would receive only the very best of care and a place where she would feel safe and happy to be.

But where should I start?…

I made a list of all the factors that had applied to people who had come to my home to look for a place for their relative or loved one.

Social workers are not allowed to recommend homes – but I did ring a senior social worker with whom I had dealings with in the past. The only helpful comment he could add to what he felt I would already know, – was “look beyond the chintz!”

This was my plan of action….

– I drew up a list of homes in a radius close to where I lived. I wanted to be able to visit my Mum as much as   I could and not waste valuable time in travelling to get there.

– I established which of the listed homes on the Internet had vacancies.

Copies of the various care home inspection reports are available online, so I looked at those to find out their star rating and to look at the outcomes of the inspections.

– I decided not to make appointments to visit potential homes – I arrived ‘on spec’. I had never minded if prospective clients/relatives turned up unannounced so I hoped I would find the same attitude from homes I visited. Much can be learned by the ‘meeting and greeting’ by staff!

– The entrance to homes was a good indicator; – pleasing décor; odour free; the right temperature.

– I hoped to find homes who were willing to give a tour of the home; ready to supply an informative brochure and answer questions about their philosophy of care and what the care home could offer – e.g. an individualised plan of care, menus and catering for special diets, activities and outings, involvement in the community, spiritual needs, access to safe and pleasurable outdoor areas/gardens.

– On all my various visits, – most of all I used my eyes to note how people were dressed; was their hair done, make-up/jewellery on, how were seating areas arranged, were residents involved in activities, and most importantly – were the staff who were caring for them – interacting with them and showing genuine empathy, care and respect.

Having taken all these factors into consideration – at the end of the day – my choice of home also came down to a ‘gut-feeling’ about the home I chose for my Mum.

I am happy to say that in the end – I DID manage to choose the right home for my Mum.

Sadly she had but a short time in the care home, – interspersed with trips to the hospital. However, before she died, my Mum expressed her thanks for the nice home and room that I had found for her. She felt she had been well looked after by all the staff and it had meant so much to her to see more of all her family than she had previously been able to for a long time

It was comforting for me to feel that she had been happy with my choice…

On a positive note – I would like to add to anyone who may be looking for a care home placement – sadly it is the bad homes that all too often achieve adverse publicity and give the many excellent care homes a bad name.

There are many excellent care homes out there – who will provide only the very best of care for someone you love  – just like the one I found for my Mum.

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