One of the most common questions I get from clients and those who attend various public-service talks I give is how to choose a long-term care facility for their loved ones, and ultimately for themselves. Because added to contemporary life today is the high cost of long-term care for an aging citizenry.

This column and the next one will attempt to frame what should be the main considerations and identify some helpful agencies and non-profits to assist you in making these important decisions. I have updated various references to websites, contact individuals and other contact information since the last columns I did on these issues a number of years ago.

An important key is to find a credible source to help you navigate the process. Good beginning points are two well-known non-profit organizations, Senior Services and The Shepherd Center of Greater Winston-Salem. Senior Services operates a hotline that can provide direction to you. (336-725-0907). The Shepherd Center can be of assistance to you as well. (336-748-0217).

A local governmental agency that can help you is the Piedmont Triad Regional Council, Area Agency on Aging Long-Term Ombudsman Program.(Ombudsman —meaning “advocate”— is one of many words of art used in the long-term care area.) This federal program is designed to help citizens with long-term care (ltc) choices, and the resident rights of our citizens who are in long-term-care facilities.

To access the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, visit , or call 336-904-0300, or contact either or .

An ombudsman will be able to provide and explain:

1. Long-term-care options;

2. Selecting a long-term-care facility;

3. Information on specific facilities (although they cannot recommend one over another);

4. Residents’ rights and other federal and state laws and regulations affecting long-term-care facilities and residents;

5. Applicable parts of Medicaid and Medicare programs; and

6. Other important suggestions as well.

The Piedmont Triad Regional Council’s website has descriptions of the different levels of care as well as a directory of facilities by county The site will help you become familiar with the different levels of care such as assisted living (adult care home), skilled nursing care and memory care. Another good place to gather information on nursing homes is .

Watch the name. There are various facilities that promote themselves as “assisted living” but in fact they are multi-unit independent houses with services such as dining options, in-home health services, and other related services. They may not be licensed to provide 24/7 supervision and care, which may come as a surprise to families. They are required to register with the state as multi-unit housing facilities with services. Ombudsmen are only able to address issues in licensed long-term-care facilities. All licensed long-term-care facilities will have a visibly posted certificate and be listed on as well as the state/federal website.

Star ratings of nursing homes are a tool, but not an end-all/be-all. Visit various facilities and gain your own impression, talk with residents and their family members, and consult with an ombudsman for a fully informed impression.

A resource that provides star ratings for assisted living facilities in N.C. is But these ratings should not replace your due diligence in other ways, as noted.

Fee-based geriatric care management companies in our area often partner with families to help them navigate various aging resources by assessing needs, developing a plan of care, and brokering and managing services to insure that the plan for your loved one is implemented. As always, check them out first.

Next column: Monitoring the long-term care of your loved one.

Remember: An informed choice is a smart choice.

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Mike Wells is a partner with Wells Law, PLLC in Winston-Salem. His email address is and his telephone number is 336.283.8700.

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