Rights of Nursing Home Residents

Nursing home residents have specific legal rights. These include the right to certain standards of care, to be involved in treatment decisions, to be informed about potential sources of financial assistance, and other rights affecting day-to-day life in a nursing care facility.

Nursing home residents have specific legal rights. These include the right to certain standards of care, the right to be involved in medical treatment decisions, and the right to be informed about potential sources of financial assistance.

Knowing these rights can ensure better treatment and quality of care for residents. They can also help residents and their families face the costs and concerns of long-term residential care.

Federal Laws Protecting Nursing Home Residents

Federal law protects many nursing home residents in long-term care facilities. During the 1980s, reports of nursing home abuse, neglect, and inadequate care prompted a wave of legislative action.

In 1987, President Ronald Reagan signed the federal Nursing Home Reform Act. This law does the following:

  • Establishes specific standards of care for nursing home residents
  • Regulates how nursing homes administer resident care
  • Grants specific legal rights to residents and their families

Many of these requirements are tied to receiving federal funds like Medicare and Medicaid. A concise summary of the act can be found on the AARP's website.

State Laws Protecting Nursing Home Residents

Many states have adopted similar measures for nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Florida was one of the first states to adopt a nursing home Residents' Bill of Rights.

Some of these rights guarantee the existing civil rights of residents. These rights include the right to vote and the right to make informed health care decisions.

Other rights are meant to aid residents in day-to-day life in nursing homes. For example, patients can always:

  • Receive visitors and communications
  • Keep their personal property
  • Receive advance notice of room transfers or discharge

Other states have similar laws on the books. California has extensive rights and laws to protect nursing home residents, as does New York.

Certification and Accreditation for Nursing Homes

Nursing home residents benefit from federal and state certification and accreditation laws, too. Federal law allows nursing homes to become certified Medicare and Medicaid providers. In addition, many states accredit or license nursing homes as well.

Residents and their families benefit from these processes. Accreditation and certification can ensure facilities comply with minimum standards of care.

Residents can file complaints over poor care with state agencies or their state's long-term care ombudsman program. State agencies investigate nursing homes for compliance, and the resulting reports can become useful in picking nursing homes or in future legal action against nursing homes.

Nursing Home Rights of Each Resident

Because different states have different laws, there's no universal list of residents' rights. However, a generalized list of common rights belonging to nursing home residents includes:

  • Visitation Rights: Residents can see family members, ombudspersons, medical personnel, legal representatives, and federal or state government representatives.
  • Personal Property Rights: Residents can keep and use personal property. Clothes and personal possessions are common examples.
  • Right to Equal Treatment: Residents have the right to equal treatment in nursing homes. This right is often meant to ensure equal treatment for residents receiving Medicare, Medicaid, or state social service funding.
  • Right to Care Information: Residents can receive information about their plan of care. They have a right to quality of life, quality care, and a sense of well-being with their medical care and decisions.
  • Right to Refuse Care: Residents can refuse medical care and treatment in many circumstances, despite their medical conditions or family and staff wishes.
  • Right Against Restraints and Abuse: Residents must be free of physical restraints or chemical restraints. They also have the right to freedom from abuse from nursing home staff or medical professionals.
  • Right to Privacy: Residents have a right to privacy in their space and communications with family members and other visitors.
  • Right to File Grievances: Residents have the right to file grievances. They also have the right to be free of retaliation for filing grievances.
  • Right to Medical Records: Residents can review their medical records.
  • Right to Notice of Transfer or Discharge: Residents have a right to receive the reasonable accommodation of advanced notice of transfers or discharge. Often, this right includes a 30-day time provision between receiving notice and moving.
  • Right to Review Inspection Reports: Residents have the right to review the most recent state inspection of the nursing home care facility.
  • Participation Rights: Residents have the right to participate in their personal needs, including social, religious, and community activities.


Getting Help With a Nursing Home Issue

Older adults facing nursing home issues deserve advocacy. They can be hesitant to voice grievances or not fully understand when their rights are violated. It may be up to a resident's family and loved ones to protect the rights of others and ensure appropriate care is taken. Checking with your state's health department is a good first step for determining what nursing home resident rights exist where you live.

If you encounter red flags or warning signs that your loved one is experiencing abuse or inadequate care, it's time to take action. Indicators of mistreatment may include:

  • Unexplained Injuries: Bruises, fractures, or wounds without a clear explanation
  • Emotional Distress: Sudden changes in behavior, withdrawal, or signs of depression
  • Inadequate Care: Poor hygiene, malnutrition, or unsafe living conditions
  • Lack of Communication: If your loved one is hesitant to communicate or expresses fear

If you've noticed any of the above red flags, your state's ombudsmen program or an elder law attorney can help.

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