Local News

Safety But One Factor in Choosing Group Home

Posted March 18, 1996 6:00 a.m. EST

— March 19, 1996, 3:35 p.m., EST

As Sunday night's fire at Scotch Meadow Rest Home in Laurinburg underscored, safety is a big factor in choosing a group home for a relative. But there are even more factors to consider.

At that facility, eight men died in a fire that is thought to have started when linen came in contact with an electrical outlet.

Fire inspections, fire drills, sprinklers, working smoke detectors and fire extinguishers, fire doors and warning alarms can be of substantial -- and possibly crucial -- importance to your relative and to your family.

Other key points to consider include conscientious delivery of medicines, cleanliness and daily physical safety.

Group home administrators offer a number of suggestions for finding the best place for the individual and the family involved. Key to the process is knowing what level of care the person requires.

If the relative is in generally good health, but needs custodial care, a rest home, also called a retirement home, may be the answer. Chronic or severely debilitating medical conditions can make a nursing home a more appropriate placement. The facility's staff can help families determine what type of placement would be most beneficial.

Visit several facilities so a comparison can be made. For the first visit to each, it would be best to have an appointment to meet with staff and be able to ask specific questions. Afterwards, come back for several unannounced visits, so you can see how the place looks and functions when a visitor is not expected. Try to make some of those visits on weekends, to see the level of staffing.

Ask the manager how long he or she has been with the facility or with the chain that operates the group home. Ask about the experience of the staff.

Meals are an important part of residents' days, both for their own enjoyment as well as their nutritional and health needs. Where was the cook trained? Where do the menus and recipes originate?

Are the rooms all private or are they shared? What would your relative do best with, and what can you afford? Sometimes compromises must be arranged.

Ask about visitation policy. Families should be encouraged to visit as often as possible, without setting up appointments in advance.

Does the facility look and smell clean? Is it maintained neatly to reduce chances of tripping or falling?

How do residents use the phone? Where is it? Who pays for what calls? Can you call in to speak with the relative, without tying up the main switchboard line?

Check out the recreational opportunities. Does the facility get several newspapers for residents' use? Are there some books for them, and any in big print? How many television and VCRs are in the common areas? Can residents have TVs and radios in their own rooms? What about bridge, crafts, walking and exercise groups? How do they get to church? Are services offered at the group home? In which faiths?

If your relative enjoys occasional trips, does the group home organize some optional travel? Some homes give residents the chance to visit spots such as Florida, Bermuda or Washington, DC, through optional trips that are escorted by staff members from the group home. Medicines are brought along and administered on schedule.

Do they have a van for taking residents to nearby shopping centers or to the library? These outings are very important and if you can't provide them, it becomes more important to learn what the group home can do.

Notice how friendly the staff is as you walk the hallways -- to you and to the patients. Do they address residents by their first names or by Mr. and Mrs.?

Do your friends or business colleagues have relatives in nearby group homes? Ask for their recommendations, and for any problems they encountered.

Ask each facility what makes them different from their competitors. Some of them may give a "fluff" answer, while others may be able to stipulate specific advantages.

Contact the adult home specialists at the Department of Social Services. They keep records of complaints and problems at institutions in their county.

Do your homework, but remember to go with your instincts. And always remember that if you or your relative becomes unhappy with the first placement, a transfer to another group home can be arranged. Group home care for the elderly is very much a business, and you and your relative should get what you pay for