Know Your Loved One’s Rights

If someone you love is a nursing home resident, you may have wondered what rights they have under the law. Fortunately, residents are protected under federal and state laws that help ensure they get the care and services they need. These rights can vary by state.

The nursing home must provide the resident with a written description of his legal rights. It’s always a good idea to keep the information your loved one receives about rights, admission and transfer policies, and other topics in case you need to access it later. Medicare beneficiaries have certain guaranteed rights and protections. In addition, federal law specifies that nursing home residents also have the following rights: 

Freedom from discrimination

Nursing homes don't have to accept all applicants, but they must comply with Civil Rights laws that don't allow discrimination based on race, color, national origin, disability, age, or religion under certain conditions. If you believe that your loved one has been discriminated against, contact the Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights at (800) 368-1019.

Respect

Your loved one has the right to be treated with dignity and respect. As long as it fits your love one’s care plan, he has the right to make decisions about his daily schedule, including when to go to bed, get up in the morning, and eat meals. Your loved one also has the right to choose the activities he wants to participate in.

Freedom from abuse & neglect

Your loved one has the right to be free from verbal, sexual, physical, and mental abuse, involuntary seclusion, and misappropriation of property. This includes, but isn't limited to, staff, other residents, consultants, volunteers, staff from other agencies, family members or legal guardians, friends, or other individuals. If you believe that your loved one’s needs haven’t been met or that he has been abused or neglected, report this to the facility, your family, your local Long-Term Care Ombudsman, or your State Survey Agency. It may be appropriate to report the incident of abuse to local law enforcement or the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (their phone number should be posted in the nursing home).

Freedom from restraints

Physical restraints are any manual method or physical or mechanical device, material, or equipment
attached to or near a resident’s body so that he or she can't remove the restraint easily. Physical restraints prevent freedom of movement or normal access to one's own body.

A chemical restraint is a drug that's used for discipline or convenience and isn't needed to treat medical symptoms. It's against the law for a nursing home to use physical or chemical restraints, unless it's necessary to treat medical symptoms. Restraints may not be used to punish or for the convenience of the staff. Your loved one has the right to refuse restraint use except if he is at risk of harming himself or others.

Information on services & fees

You and your loved one must be informed in writing about services and fees before your loved one moves into the nursing home. The nursing home can't require a minimum entrance fee as a condition of residence.

Money

Your loved one has the right to manage his own money or to choose a trusted person to manage these affairs. If your loved one wants the nursing home to manage personal funds, he must sign a written statement that allows the nursing home to do so. However, the nursing home must allow your loved one to access bank accounts, cash, and other financial records. Your loved one’s money (over $50) must be placed by the nursing home in an account that will provide interest. They must provide quarterly statements. The nursing home must protect funds from any loss by buying a bond or providing other similar protections.

Privacy, property, & living arrangements

Your loved one has the right to privacy, and to keep and use personal belongings and property as long as they don't interfere with the rights, health, or safety of others. Nursing home staff should never open your loved one’s mail unless he allows it. Your loved one has the right to use a phone and talk privately. The nursing home must protect your loved one’s property from theft. This may include a safe in the facility or cabinets with locked doors in resident rooms. If your loved one and his spouse live in the same nursing home, they are entitled to share a room (if they both agree to do so).

Medical care

Your loved one has the right to be informed about his medical condition, medications, and to see his or own doctor. Your loved one also has the right to refuse medications and treatments and to take part in the development of his care plan. Your loved one has the right to view his medical records and reports.

Visitors

Your loved one has the right to spend private time with visitors at any reasonable hour. The nursing home must permit family to visit at any time, as long as your loved one wants to see them. Your loved one doesn't have to see any visitor he doesn't want to see. Any person who helps your loved one with health or legal services may see him at any reasonable time. This includes doctors, representatives from the health department, and a Long-Term Care Ombudsman, among others.

Social services

The nursing home must provide your loved one with any needed medically-related social services, including counseling, help solving problems with other residents, help in contacting legal and financial professionals, and discharge planning.

Complaints

Your loved one has the right to make a complaint to the staff of the nursing home, or any other person, without fear of punishment. The nursing home must resolve the issue promptly.

Protection against unfair transfer or discharge

Your loved one can't be sent to another nursing home or made to leave the nursing home unless it's necessary for his own welfare, health, or safety, or that of others, his health has declined to the point that the nursing home can't meet the care needs, his health has improved to the point that nursing home care is no longer necessary, services haven’t been paid for, or the nursing home closes. A nursing home can't make your loved one leave if he or she is waiting to get Medicaid. The nursing home should work with other state agencies to get payment if a family member or other individual is holding your loved one’s money.

Your family & friends

Family members and legal guardians may meet with the families of other residents and may participate in family councils. If you are your loved one’s legal guardian, you have the right to look at all medical records about your loved one. You have the right to make important decisions on his or her behalf. You can play a major role in making sure your loved one gets good quality care.

Elder Care Coordinator Pati Bedwell discusses residents rights in this short video series.

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