Nursing home residents have rights!

Many people incorrectly believe that once seniors enter a nursing home, their freedom is over. In fact, nursing home residents have many rights, and it is important to know those rights and to be able to enforce them.

Nursing home residents’ rights are protected under federal law. In broad terms, nursing homes are required to ensure that every resident be given whatever services are necessary to function at the highest level possible. Here are some of the specific protections that residents have:

  • Residents have a right to privacy in all aspects of their care. This means that phone calls and mail should be private, and residents should be able to close doors and windows.
  • Residents may bring belongings from home, and nursing home staff members are required to assist residents in protecting those belongings.
  • Residents have the right to go to bed and get up when they choose, eat a variety of snacks outside meal times, decide what to wear, choose activities, and decide how to spend their time. The nursing home must offer a choice at main meals, because individual tastes and needs vary.
  • Residents have the right to leave the nursing home and belong to any church or social group they choose.
  • Residents must be allowed to participate in planning their care.
  • Residents have a right to manage their own financial affairs.
  • Residents may not be moved to a different room, a different nursing home, a hospital, back home, or anywhere else without advance notice and an opportunity for appeal.

If a disagreement with the nursing home does arise, there are a number of steps you can take to enforce the resident’s rights. The first step is to talk to the nursing home staff directly. This may be all it takes to solve the problem. If that doesn’t work, then you may need to talk to a supervisor or administrator.

If you’re still unable to resolve the issue, the next step is to contact the ombudsperson assigned to the nursing home. He or she may be able to intervene and get an appropriate result. You can find contact information for the Ombudsman Program in your state at:

Additional steps include reporting the nursing home to its licensing agency and hiring a geriatric care manager to intervene. If the direct approach isn’t working, you may need to hire a lawyer to resolve the issue. The last resort is to move the resident to a different facility.

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