Are you — or is someone you love — in a nursing home? If so, it’s important you understand that all residents of such caretaking facilities legally possess nursing home rights. These include rights to certain standards of care, involvement in treatment decisions, information about financial options, and protections from abuse.
Knowing these nursing home rights ensures that residents get the care they deserve at this point in life. It also helps families determine what’s legal when it comes to the costs and concerns of long-term residential care.
What Are Federal and State Nursing Home Rights?
During the 80s, reports of inadequate care, neglect, and elder abuse in nursing homes led to waves of elder-law legislation. In 1987, the Nursing Home Reform Act was signed into federal law by then President Ronald Reagan. The objective is to ensure that nursing home residents receive quality care that maintains their physical, mental, and psychosocial wellbeing.
Today, nursing homes receive Medicaid and Medicare payments for long-term care of residents only if they follow the requirements established in the Nursing Home Reform Act. Agencies reinforce this in most states by monitoring nursing home certifications to ensure compliance with federal laws.
Since federal dollars pay for the majority of nursing home bills, adherence to these elder care laws is important. And it means that you should speak up if these nursing home rights are being violated.
What is the Nursing Home Residents’ Bill of Rights?
At minimum, federal law requires nursing homes to “promote and protect the rights of each resident.” It also mandates that residents are informed of their nursing home rights before or upon admission into a facility.
These rights — as well as how one should act and what they’re responsible for while in the nursing home — must be presented in writing and explained to the resident in a language they understand. The resident must also acknowledge receipt of this information in writing before moving in.
15 Nursing Home Rights All Residents Have Under Federal Law
Because different states have different laws, there isn’t one universal nursing home rights manual. However, U.S. federal law does protect the following nursing home rights for all residents:
1. The right to freedom from abuse, neglect and mistreatment.
Residents have the right to be free from verbal, sexual, physical, and mental abuse. You should report any suspected violations, and the nursing home must investigate incidents within five days.
2. The right to freedom from restraints.
Residents have the right to be free of unnecessary physical restraints (such as vests, hand mitts, and seatbelts) or chemical restraints (such as antipsychotic drugs and sedatives). The only exception is when authorized by a physician, in writing, for a specific and limited time.
3. The right to privacy and personal property.
Residents have a right to privacy in their living space, but also in communications with family members or any other person of their choice. They may also keep and use personal property, such as clothing and personal possessions. The nursing home should also help protect such items from theft.
4. The right to freedom from discrimination.
5. The right to proper medical care.
This includes not only access, but also the right to participate in decisions that affect care such as choice of doctor, medical directives, and information about overall health and medical conditions.
6. The right to receive social services.
The nursing home must provide residents with any needed social services including counseling, help solving issues with other residents, and contact with financial or legal professionals.
7. The right to manage personal money and get financial information.
Residents have the right to manage their own money or choose someone to do so for them. The nursing home must allow access to bank accounts, cash, and all financial records. They must also disclose fees and costs associated with care.
8. The right to exercise self-determination.
Residents may choose their daily schedules and expect a reasonable accommodation of their needs and personal/cultural preferences. They may also request, refuse, or discontinue treatment.
9. The right to participate in resident groups and activities.
Residents have the right to participate in social, religious, and community activities. They also have the right to form a “resident’s council” to discuss issues within their nursing home.
10. The right to have visitors.
Though the pandemic temporarily affected this right, thanks to high vaccination rates most nursing home restrictions have been lifted. Residents once again have the right to entertain visitors. However, rules vary state-to-state and safety precautions are still recommended.
11. The right to leave the nursing home.
Any resident has the right to take a brief “leave of absence” to visit family or friends overnight or during the week. This is health permitting and with their doctor’s permission. However, always check insurance requirements first as some policies may restrict such visits. Also, remember that living in a nursing home is a choice. Residents may choose to move but should give notice before making changes to avoid extra fees.
12. The right to protest unfair discharge or transfer.
Residents may not be moved to a different room, a different nursing home, a hospital, or anywhere else without advance warning (30 days’ notice is common). They must also be given an opportunity to appeal proposed moves.
13. The right to communicate freely and raise grievances without retribution.
Residents have the right to file complaints to the nursing home or any other person without fear of punishment.
14. The right to involve family, friends, or a long-term care ombudsman.
Keeping close relations or advocates involved in the care of nursing home residents can help protect and ensure quality care.
15. The right to be treated with dignity.
Every nursing home resident should be treated with consideration and respect. Their residence should maintain or even improve their quality of life.
What Other Services Must Facilities Legally Provide to Residents?
In addition to the above list of nursing home resident rights, the Nursing Home Reform Act also requires facilities to provide certain resident services. These include:
- Periodic assessments for each resident.
- Nursing, social, rehabilitation, pharmaceutical, and dietary services.
- A full-time social worker (if the facility has 120+ beds).
- A comprehensive care plan for each resident.
These requirements are in place to ensure that facilities meet minimum standards of care for residents, including adequate staffing. Nursing homes that ignore any required services may be in violation of elder protection laws.
When Should You Speak Up About Suspected Nursing Home Rights Violations?
If you feel you or a family member in long-term care suffered a nursing home rights violation, it may be time to seek help. Consulting with an elder law attorney is one option. But in cases of suspected elder abuse, it is also important to report it to the authorities.
If there is immediate fear of harm or life-threatening danger, call the police or 911. Otherwise, you should contact Adult Protective Services in your state.
You can also call Elder Locator, a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging, at 1-800-677-1116 Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST. They will help provide advice and referrals to local agencies.
Working together, we can help keep our older adults safe from harm, and allow them to age with the dignity they deserve.
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Kimberly Dawn Neumann
Kimberly Dawn Neumann is a multi-published NYC-based magazine and book writer whose work has appeared in a wide variety of publications ranging from Forbes to Cosmopolitan. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Maryland, College of Journalism. For more, visit: www.KDNeumann.com, Instagram @dancerscribe, and Twitter @KimberlyNeumann