By Betty Berry, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2010  Q: I need to place a family member in a care facility. Do you have any suggestions on how to start my search?

A: Finding the appropriate facility takes time and effort. But spending this time early in the process makes the transition much easier for the entire family.

First, determine how many facilities are in your area. A list of sites in Ventura County is available from the Long Term Care Ombudsman, 656-1986.

You can also learn about potential facilities through hospital discharge planners, social workers, physicians who serve the elderly, and volunteer organizations that work with the elderly or chronically ill.

The Senior Advocate’s office is also a good resource.

Next, narrow the list by eliminating facilities that do not meet your requirements. If you will be depending onMedicare or Medi-Cal for financial assistance, make certain the facility accepts that type of payment.

If you expect an HMO to cover the costs, check to see if the facility has a contract with your HMO.

Does your family have religious or cultural preferences? If yes, check with the facility to determine if it provides the type of environment required.

Does the family member have special medical conditions or dementia? If so, make sure the facility is capable of handling these needs.

Location is important. If you have a choice, select a facility that can be easily visited. Frequent visits are the best way to make sure your loved one does well and makes the transition to a new environment.

After you have narrowed your list, you are ready to start visiting the facilities. Always call and schedule a visit to ensure that a staff person who can answer questions will be available. Good luck in your search.

Q: I have been talking with friends about the cost of nursing home care. Opinions differ on how these costs can be covered. Will you shed some light?

A: Nursing home care is expensive, and for most people finding ways to finance it is a major concern.

About half of all nursing home residents begin by paying nursing home costs out of their personal resources. Those who have long stays eventually become eligible for Medi-Cal assistance.

Medi-Cal is a state and federal program that will pay most nursing home costs for patients with very limited income and assets. The facility must be certified by Medi-Cal.

Many incorrectly believe that Medicare and supplemental insurance will cover the costs of nursing home care.

Under certain limited conditions Medicare will pay some costs for beneficiaries who need skilled care and/or physical or speech therapy. To be covered, you must meet strict qualifications, and even then the coverage is for a very limited time. Medicare never covers custodial care in a nursing home.

Long-term care insurance is private insurance that can be purchased to cover care in a nursing facility. Plans and premiums vary widely and generally only relatively healthy people qualify for policies.

In addition, some managed-care plans or employer benefit packages cover or partially cover these costs.

— Betty Berry is a senior advocate for Senior Concerns. The advocates are at the Goebel Senior Adult Center, 1385 E. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks, CA 91362. Call 495-6250 or e-mail (please include your telephone number). You are invited to submit questions on senior issues.

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