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The Rights of Nursing Home Patients

Putting a loved one in a long-term care facility can be difficult. An older parent or family member may not be able to take care of himself at home, or they may need specialized personal care that a family caregiver cannot provide. Residents of nursing homes have rights under state and federal law. Unfortunately, some nursing homes need to take residents' rights more seriously.

If a nursing home violates a resident's rights, you can report the nursing home to state or federal agencies. In some cases, the nursing home can be held responsible for abuse or neglect and face criminal penalties. Some nursing home rights are based on state law, so you should consult with an older adult law attorney in your area to understand your rights and legal options.

Nursing Home Rights and Protections

There are state and federal protections for nursing home residents. Some of these protections were established by the Nursing Home Reform Act (NHRA) of 1987. These protections are described in the Nursing Home Resident Bill of Rights, which include the following rights:

  • Be free from discrimination
  • Be free from abuse and neglect
  • Exercise your rights as a U.S. citizen
  • Have your representative notified
  • Get proper health care
  • Be treated with respect
  • Be free from restraints
  • Have protections against involuntary transfer or discharge
  • Participate in activities
  • Spend time with visitors
  • Form or participate in resident groups
  • Manage your money
  • Get information on services and fees
  • Get proper privacy, property, and living arrangements
  • Make complaints

Residents of nursing facilities have the right to be informed about their care, make their own decisions, and keep personal information private. This includes free choice in choosing a personal attending physician and participating in planning care and treatment.

Quality of Life

Good quality of life involves more than just providing the minimum level of care. Residents in a nursing home have the right to participate in social, religious, and community activities. They also have the right to organize and participate in resident councils and family councils.

Privacy and Confidentiality

Residents have the right to privacy in their accommodations, electronic and written communications, financial affairs, visits, medical care, and when meeting with the family. Nursing home residents also have the right to confidentiality of their medical records and have the right to reasonable access to their care records upon request.

Managing Your Own Financial Affairs

Residents can manage their financial affairs or designate someone else to do so. For example, if your nursing home accounts for your money, you must sign a written statement agreeing to do this. The nursing home must also allow you to access your financial records and provide a full accounting of your funds.

Live Without Abuse or Neglect

It seems evident that nursing home residents would have the right to be free from abuse, but there is a significant risk of abuse for people in long-term care facilities. This can include verbal, sexual, mental, and physical abuse through over-medicating patients, chemical restraints, physical restraints, involuntary seclusion, or neglect. Restraints can only be used to ensure the residents' safety and only upon a physician's written order, under limited circumstances and duration.

The Costs of Medical Care

Residents are responsible for the costs of their medical care and are entitled to understand those costs and whether they are reimbursable by Medicare, Medicaid, or private insurance. Residents should also be informed about changes to costs and fees from the nursing home care facility.

Nursing Home Responsibilities

Nursing homes are required to tell residents about their legal rights and explain their rights. Care facilities must also provide, in writing, how the residents are supposed to act in the nursing home and their responsibilities.

State Nursing Home Bill of Rights

States also have nursing home resident rights and protections. These state department of health laws may be the same as the federal protections, or they can go further. For example, in California, Under public Health and Safety Code §1288, residents in nursing homes also have the right to be given 30 days' written advance notice of any rate increase in the care facility.

If you have questions or complaints about the rights of each resident in a nursing home, a local older adult law attorney can give you legal advice about the older adult law protections and requirements in your state and how you can get help.

How Can I Report Nursing Home Complaints?

If a nursing home is not doing what they are supposed to, you have the right to have your complaints heard. Nursing home rights include the right to present grievances about treatment without discrimination or reprisal for speaking out. You also have the right to prompt efforts by the facility to address the problems, including complaints about the behavior of other residents.

Long-Term Care Ombudsman

States also have ombudsman programs for residents who complain about their treatment in a care facility. The state long-term care ombudsman (LTCO) advocates ensuring nursing home residents have a good quality of life and get the care they need.

Nursing Home Services Breach of Contract

If your family member is not getting the care they were promised, the resident could file a breach of contract claim with the nursing home. Moving someone into a facility involves signing a contract that lays out the services to be provided, requirements, and costs. If the nursing home fails to provide the quality care promised, the resident may have a breach of contract claim. A legal representative can give you advice about filing a breach of contract claim against the nursing home facility for failing to provide appropriate care.

Reporting Suspected Abuse or Neglect

Some nursing home violations go too far and can be considered abuse or neglect. It may be difficult for family members to know if their loved one is getting poor service or if it has turned into abuse. Your loved one may not say anything about the abuse because of fear of reprisal or because they cannot communicate due to a medical condition. However, if there are warning signs or red flags, the suspected abuse should be reported.