October is Long-term Care Residents’ Rights Month, a time to celebrate the rights and dignity of people living in nursing homes. Thanks to strong legislation and regulations, nursing home residents have a legal guarantee of certain protections against abuse and neglect. Residents do not give up their rights as adult citizens solely by virtue of entering a nursing home environment. All nursing homes participating in Medicaid and Medicare must respect the rights covered by this law.
Congress passed the 1987 Nursing Home Reform Act after a study conducted by the Institute of Medicine found alarming rates of inadequate care, abuse, and neglect in nursing homes around the country. The Institute recommended a wide range of reforms that became law as part of a budget bill. The law aims to protect the physical, mental, and psychosocial wellness of nursing home residents by requiring nursing homes to provide certain services and creating a “Resident’s Bill of Rights.” Nursing homes must comply with the law in order to remain eligible to accept Medicare and Medicaid payments. Laws passed in 2010 expand on the rights protected by the 1987 law.
Nursing homes are required by this law to provide each resident with a personalized comprehensive care plan, along with periodic assessments of their care. They must provide nursing and social services, as well as rehabilitation and the ability to dispense prescription medications. Facilities with more than 120 beds should employ a full-time social worker to assist residents.
The Residents’ Bill of Rights lists numerous rights protected by federal law. These include:
– Freedom from abuse, neglect, or restraint;
– A clean and safe environment;
– Accommodation of particular medical and other needs;
– Communication and visitation with others;
– Participation in one’s care plan and frequent updates regarding one’s health condition;
– Complaint without fear of retribution;
– Control of one’s own finances, if possible; and
– Refusal of treatment when desired.
The Nursing Home Reform Act created an enforcement procedure that begins with routine inspections by state governments to review a nursing home’s certification. Surveyors may also investigate specific complaints or allegations, reviewing the amount of danger faced by residents and the likelihood that the alleged incident might occur again. One serious consequence of non-compliance with the law involves loss of Medicare and Medicaid eligibility. The law allows penalties ranging from remedial training for staffers to state management of the nursing home or outright termination of the home’s provider agreement with the state.