Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors| Last updated March 05, 2021
Nursing home residents possess 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. Knowing these rights can ensure better treatment and more comfortable care for residents. They can also help residents and their families face the costs and common concerns that come with long-term residential care.
Federal and State Laws Protecting 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 establishes specific standards of care for nursing home residents, regulates how nursing homes administer care, and grants specific legal rights to residents and their families. Many of these requirements are tied to the receipt of federal funds such as Medicare and Medicaid. A concise summary of the act can be found at the AARP’s website.
Many states have adopted similar measures. As you might expect, 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, such as the right to vote and the right to make informed health care decisions. But other rights are specifically meant to aid residents in day-to-day life in nursing homes. For example, patients have the right to receive visitors and communications, retain their personal property, and receive advance notice of transfers or discharge. Other states have similar laws on the books. California has enacted an extensive set of rights and laws to protect nursing home residents. So, too, has New York.
Certification and Accreditation
Nursing home residents benefit from federal and state certification and accreditation laws too. Federal law provides for nursing homes to become certified Medicare and Medicaid providers, while many states accredit or license nursing homes on their own. Residents and their families benefit from these processes. Accreditation and certification can ensure facilities comply with minimal standards of care. Residents can gain a means of filing complaints over poor care with state agencies. Finally, state agencies investigate nursing homes for compliance. The resulting reports can become useful in picking nursing homes or in any resulting legal action against nursing homes.
Nursing Home Resident Rights
Because different states have different laws, there’s no one universal list of residents’ rights. However, we can manage a generalized list of common rights belonging to nursing home residents:
Visitation Rights - Residents can see family members, ombudspersons, medical personnel, and federal and 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 health care funding.
Right to Care Information - Residents have the right to receive information about their care.
Right to Refuse Care - Residents have the right to refuse treatment in many circumstances.
Right Against Restraints and Abuse - Residents have the right to be free of physical or medical restraint. They also have the right to be free of abuse.
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 have the right to review their medical records.
Right to Notice of Transfer or Discharge - Residents have a right to receive advanced notice of transfers or discharge. Often, this right includes a time provision: thirty days notice is common.
Right to Review Inspection Reports - Residents have the right to review the most recent state inspection of the nursing home or care facility.
Participation Rights - Residents have the right to participate in social, religious, and community activities.
Getting Help with a Nursing Home Issue
Checking with your state’s health department is a good first step for determining what nursing home resident rights exist where you live. Beyond that, contacting a state agency, medical office, or an elder law attorney can be helpful.
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