What Are Nursing Home Residents' Rights?

Care worker yelling and pointing her finger at senior man.Long-term care recipients are often vulnerable as they face health challenges away from their families and homes. One in three older adults has been the victim of nursing home abuse, according to Nursing Home Abuse Justice. Federal law safeguards patients’ rights and limits what long-term care facilities can do.

The 1987 Nursing Home Reform Act

The Federal Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987 protects residents’ rights in federally funded long-term care facilities. In addition to prohibiting abuse, the law outlines patients’ rights to autonomous decision-making, privacy, and information about their care. When nursing homes restrict patients’ freedoms, they could violate the law.

Things Nursing Homes Are Not Allowed to Do

Nursing homes cannot:

  • withhold information from residents
  • reject and retaliate against complaints
  • prevent residents from participating in care
  • trespass upon their privacy or independent decision-making
  • bill services fraudulently
  • improperly transfer or discharge residents
  • abuse them 

Withhold Information

Nursing homes cannot withhold information from patients. Facilities must keep residents informed about the care they can receive, the rules of the facility, and room changes.

  • Like other residents, those with sensory impairments or who are not fluent in English deserve information about their care. A nursing home cannot refuse to provide information about a service or room change, for instance, to a resident who is deaf.
  • Facilities also violate the law when they prevent residents from accessing and reviewing their rules and regulations.
  • Establishments must give residents notice before reassigning rooms.

Refuse and Retaliate Against Complaints

Those residing in long-term care facilities have the right to complain to the nursing home; the state survey and certification agency; as well as the ombudsman program, which protects the rights of residents in long-term care facilities.

  • When residents complain to long-term care facilities, the facilities cannot retaliate against residents. Examples of reprisal include limiting access to services and harassing or abusing residents.
  • Following a complaint, the care home must respond promptly. Failing to address complaints in a timely manner can constitute a violation of the Nursing Home Reform Law.

Restrict Residents From Participating in Care

Nursing home patients have the right to be engaged in their own care and make health care decisions. Staff at nursing homes cannot make decisions for patients without legal authority (such as guardianship) or keep medical information from patients.

  • Facilities must provide adequate and appropriate care. When patients’ conditions worsen because of inattention and inadequate care, it might indicate that the nursing home failed to meet this standard.
  • Neglecting to inform patients of changes in their condition goes against the Nursing Home Reform Law. People receiving nursing home care must know about changes in their health so they can take appropriate action and review their options.
  • Workers cannot restrain residents against their will, including using drugs to sedate them.
  • Nursing homes cannot keep medical records from patients, who have a right to review them.

Infringe Upon Residents’ Privacy

Patients have a right to privacy, and a right to see and refuse visitors.

  • Preventing patients from communicating with others violates their right to privacy.
  • Staff cannot listen in on conversations against their wishes.
  • Nursing homes cannot stop those receiving care from communicating privately with legal, medical, and financial professionals.
  • Family, friends, physicians, and other people whom residents wish to see must be allowed in to see them.
  • Facilities cannot force visits upon unwilling patients.

Bill Services Fraudulently

When nursing homes participate in Medicare and Medicaid, they cannot charge patients for covered services, and they must provide information about care costs.

  • Facilities cannot double charge patients and Medicaid or Medicare for services these programs cover.
  • Because of residents’ right to information, care facilities cannot conceal the costs of services.
  • As part of their right to make independent choices, long-term care recipients have the right to handle their financial affairs.

Prevent Residents Making Independent Choices

Recipients of long-term care have the right to make their own decisions. Nursing homes cannot usurp their decision-making power.

  • Facilities must reasonably accommodate residents’ needs and preferences.
  • Long-term care establishments cannot prevent residents from participating in their chosen social activities.
  • Nursing homes also cannot force residents to use a particular doctor. Patients have the right to select their physician.

Improperly Transfer or Discharge Patients

When a nursing home transfers or discharges a patient, the decision can significantly impact the patient’s health and well-being. Improper discharges when a resident still requires care can jeopardize the patient’s health. Transfers to different facilities can take residents away from local friends and family.

  • Long-term care facilities cannot transfer or discharge residents needlessly.
  • Nursing homes cannot move or release residents without 30 days of notice.

Abuse or Disrespect Residents

People who rely on nursing homes for care deserve respect, consideration, and dignity.

  • Care facilities cannot abuse residents physically or emotionally.
  • Staff cannot punish patients corporally, place them in seclusion against their will, or use physical and chemical restraints.
  • Nursing homes cannot steal residents’ possessions.

Protect Your Rights

If you suspect that a long-term care facility has infringed upon the rights of you or your loved one, contact your state’s long-term care ombudsman, which advocates for long-term care residents. Reach out to an elder law attorney near you who can help you identify law violations and take steps to protect your rights.