Legal Rights of Nursing Home Residents

Nursing home abuse is an all-too-common problem in the U.S. More than 3 million Americans depend on assisted living facilities and nursing home staff to care for themselves and maintain a certain standard of living. But unfortunately, many nursing home residents do not receive the care and attention they deserve.

Nearly one-third of all nursing homes in the U.S. were cited for violations of federal standards over a two-year period, according to a U.S. House of Representatives report. More than 2,000 interviews with nursing home residents revealed that 44 percent report being abused and 95 percent report being neglected or seeing another resident neglected. More than 50 percent of nursing home staff admitted to mistreating older patients, either through physical violence, mental abuse, or neglect.

The Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987 sought to put an end to the substandard care provided in nursing homes—but surely there is much more work to be done. Under this law, nursing homes must “promote and protect the rights of each resident” and allow them to think and act independently whenever possible.

This law establishes a number of rights for nursing home residents, as well as responsibilities for nursing home staff members. Overall, the act is designed to ensure that nursing homes “provide services and activities to attain or maintain the highest practicable physical, mental, and psychosocial well-being of each resident in accordance with a written plan of care…”

Rights of nursing home residents granted by the Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987 include:

  • The right to be fully informed of available services and the associated costs; facility rules and regulations, including a written copy of resident rights; the address and phone number of the State Ombudsman and state survey agency; state survey reports and nursing home’s plan of correction; advance plans of a change in rooms or roommates; assistance if a sensory impairment exists; and the right to receive information in a language they understand.
  • The right to complain, including the right to present grievances to staff members without fear of reprisal and with prompt efforts by the facility to resolve those grievances; the right to complain to the ombudsman program; and the right to file a complaint with the state survey and certification agency.
  • The right to participate in one’s own care, including the right to receive adequate and appropriate care; the right to be informed of all changes in medical condition; the right to participate in their own assessment, care-planning, treatment, and discharge; the right to refuse medication and treatment; the right to refuse chemical and physical restraints; the right to review one’s medical record; and the right to be free from charge for services covered by Medicare or Medicaid.

The right to privacy and confidentiality, including the right to private and unrestricted communication with any person of their choice; the right to privacy during treatment and care of one’s personal needs; and the right to privacy regarding medical, personal, or financial affairs.

  • Rights during transfers and discharges, meaning the patient be allowed to remain in the nursing home unless one of the following is true: the move is necessary for his or her welfare, the move is appropriate because the patient’s condition has improved and no longer needs nursing home care, the move is needed to protect the health and safety of other residents or staff, or the move is needed because the resident has failed (after reasonable notice) to pay the facility charge for an item or service requested by the patient.
  • Right to dignity, respect, and freedom, including the right to be treated with consideration, respect, and dignity; the right to be free from mental and physical abuse, corporal punishment, involuntary seclusion, and physical and chemical restraints; the right of self-determination; and the right to a safe and secure place for possessions.
  • Right to visits, including visits by a resident’s personal physician and representatives from the state survey agency and ombudsman programs; visits by relatives, friends, and others of the residents’ choosing; visits by organizations or individuals providing health, social, legal, or other services; and the right to refuse visits.
  • Right to make independent choices, including the right to make personal decisions, such as what to wear and how to spend free time; the right to reasonable accommodation of one’s needs and preferences; the right to choose a physician; the right to participate in community activities, both inside and outside the nursing home; the right to organize and participate in a Resident Council; and the right to manage one’s own financial affairs.