I’ve now been caring for mum for over a year in her home in South Wales. I thought I would be back in my home in Brighton by now, or at least that mum would be on the point of moving into a care home. I’m discovering it’s not that simple…

Three homes meet “must have” criteria

So, having prepared my minimum “must have” criteria and drawn up a shortlist of care homes, I selected three for in-depth interviews with senior managers. My initial research had included visiting ten care homes here in South Wales (mum has stayed in two of them), and four in Sussex, south England.

The three shortlisted homes are local, in the Welsh seaside town where mum has lived since 1997. Staying local is important; she can go to the church she’s attended for the last twenty years and is close to family and friends. The three care homes were all given the thumbs up by Care Inspectorate Wales, and local health / social service professionals. People working in the public sector cannot recommend homes as such, but they can give hugely helpful information, if they know what you are looking for.

Feeling encouraged

My sister and I interviewed the senior managers of these three homes using a list of questions I had prepared. We were very encouraged by the responses from the managers, the atmosphere of the homes and the attentiveness of staff. But we still had minor reservations about all of them. In the end, we decided to go for whichever had a room available first. It then turned out mum was very uncomfortable with a male member of staff at one of the homes, where she had stayed. So we were down to two top homes and waiting for a room in either of them. Let’s call them Care Homes A and B.

Transitioning mum from home to a care home

Mum has been spending a day a week at Care Home A, since the beginning of May. The aim was to help her transition should she eventually move there. I initially thought this home was the most obvious choice for mum. At the end of mum’s first day there, I found her chatting with a lovely woman called Margaret. Margaret couldn’t praise the home enough, saying the staff, food and activities were all excellent. I felt very encouraged. It later turned out this woman is a devoted Christian, whose husband is a vicar; a huge plus for mum. Another resident is a former vicar who runs services in the home on Sundays!

I approached this care home back in early autumn last year and interviewed the owner and manager. She good-naturedly answered all my questions and I was especially impressed with her responses. On leaving, as I thanked her for her patience and apologised for taking up so much time, she said it felt like an inspection interview.

My sister and I have since been back to meet with and interview two of the senior care managers. I also recently asked the owner if I could sit in the lounge for an hour without mum. She said no: that even inspectors don’t do that and it wouldn’t be fair on the staff. I had hoped to do this with all the shortlisted homes but after that refusal, asking felt awkward.

Choosing a care home: a two-way process

I didn’t say I wanted to observe staff interactions with residents, but I guess it was obvious. As time has gone by at Care Home A, I had become a little concerned about the dynamics between residents, and the quality of interactions between residents and staff.
When the manager said no, it slowly dawned on me that choosing a care home is a two-way process. The home manager is probably assessing mum and me, as much as we are evaluating the home. They may be wondering if mum will be too much of a handful (she has been anxious at times during her visits) and if I will be overly involved or difficult.
When I first asked to go on the waiting list of this home months ago, I was told it was too early. I had assumed that after expressing interest so long ago, mum would be at the top of the list by now, but I’ve just found out she’s not. That might be a coincidence, or I might be getting paranoid…

Stay tuned to read the next instalment of my search for a care home for mum….

6 thoughts on “Finding a Good Care Home for Mum (Part 1)

  1. My research interest is in care homes so this is a really interesting read, thank you. I would be concerned if a care home wouldn’t allow me to observe everyday life taking place. A move to a care home can be a life changing and difficult transition, I think it is perfectly reasonable to request to spend some time to ensure the decision being made is as well informed as possible.

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    1. Yes, to be honest it concerns me too. I think it quite reasonable to request I sit in the lounge to help make a decision that will affect the quality of lilfe for my mum’s final years. There are many excellent points about this home, but there are a few niggles too. This care home discourages family and friends from visiting at mealtimes. They say it is because it’s a busy time for staff who have to let people in. So that leads me to another concern, why is there is no door code for family and friends to let themselves in. Seems like a waste of valuable staff time.

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  2. Choosing a home is really difficult and you never know what it will be like until mum has been there for a while. We have found that, even living locally and visiting daily, what life was like for mum was hard to judge.
    We have also found that the culture of the home can change and you have consider yet another move. Though it is risky and disruptive, I would suggest you consider any home as ‘for now’ – we got used to telling mum she could stay there as long as she wanted, but that won’t work for all people, I know.
    We have to accept that, once the house is sold, someone in a care home is essentially homeless – a change of manager, a failed inspection, can mean an enforced move. This is due to the ownership and contractual arrangements of care homes, which badly need review.
    But it does mean you can take a different view of choosing a home – find the best you can, of course, but accept that may change in time. No decision is forever.
    Take care x

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    1. Lots of wisdom in what you say. Thanks for sharing your experience. Having invested so much time in trying to make the ‘right decision’, I have now come around to the idea that we will just have to see how mum gets on. If she’s not happy, and we believe somewhere else might be better for her, we will have to move her. It gives her a sense of control and choice too. And it takes the pressure off getting it right. As you say no decision is forever.

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  3. Hi Julia my dad has worked for a number of years now (following retirement and wanting to do something useful) – doing ‘layman’ inspections of care homes. I’ll see if he has any thoughts on your post or any tips for you about what to look out for. He has seen many good and many bad care homes….

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    1. That would be so helpful. Given how much time I have spent developing criteria, visiting homes, engaging with carers and managers in the care home mum stayed in, I thought I was so well prepared to find the best care home, but it’s so disappointing how many reservations I have about the care homes my sister and I have chosen. Thank you Sam.

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