A truism we all know is that nothing is sure in life but death and taxes. But added to that in contemporary life is the higher cost of health care and long-term care for an aging population. We will leave it to the elected officials to figure out the health care system framework, but what we all have to figure out is how we address our personal long-term care and that of our aging parents and loved ones.

This column and the next one will attempt to frame the main considerations and identify some helpful agencies and non-profits to assist you in making these important decisions.

An important key is to find a credible source to help you navigate the process. Good beginning points are two well-known nonprofit 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 people with long-term care choices, and the resident rights of those who are in long-term care facilities.

To access the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, visit www.ptrc.org/index.asap?page=278 or call (336) 904-0300. 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 at www.ptrc.org/index. 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 www.Medicare.gov .

Watch the name. There are various facilities which 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 www.ptrc.org/index 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 form 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 North Carolina is https://www2.ncdhhs.gov/dhsr/acls/star/search.asp. 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.

Remember: An informed choice is a smart choice.

This article was originally posted by the Winston-Salem Journal. To read the original article, click here.