The Rights of a Nursing Home Resident

By: Anthony J. Enea, Esq.

Because there is a possibility that either you or a loved one will spend time in a nursing home, it is important to know the basic rights of a nursing home resident. The following is a brief overview of the rights residents in a nursing home have pursuant to federal laws.

The 1987 Nursing Home Reform Act (NHRA), part of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987(OBRA), established quality standards for nursing homes nationwide and defined the state survey and certification process to enforce the standards (42 CFR 283.0). These regulations represent minimum standards for long term care facilities. They were promulgated to improve the quality of care of their residents. The general goals of OBRA are to:

  • Promote and enhance the quality of life of the resident
  • Provide services and activities to attain or maintain the highest practicable, physical, mental and psycho social well being of each resident in accordance with a written plan of care
  • Provide that resident and advocate participation is a criteria for assessing the facilities compliance with administrator requirements
  • Assure access to the State's Long Term Care Ombudsman (a 3rd party resident advocate) to the facilities residents, and assure that the Ombudsman has access to records, residents and care providers

In order to foster the above stated goals NHRA established the "Resident's Bill of Rights" which is as follows:

  • The right to freedom from abuse, mistreatment, and neglect
  • The right to freedom from physical restraints
  • The right to privacy
  • The right to accommodation of medical, physical, psychological, and social needs
  • The right to participate in resident and family groups
  • The right to be treated with dignity
  • The right to exercise self-determination
  • The right to communicate freely
  • The right to participate in the review of one's care plan, and to be fully informed in advance about any changes in care, treatment, or change of status in the facility
  • The right to voice grievances without the discrimination or reprisal

A copy of the Bill of Rights must be conspicuously posted in the lobby of the facility. While these rights are general in nature, NHRA specifically defines the parameters of each right. For example, with respect to medication, NHRA proscribes that a resident be free of unnecessary physical or chemical restraints, including anti-psychotic drugs and sedatives, except when authorized by a physician for a specified and limited period of time. Additionally, the NHRA specifically provides that:

  • Facilities inform the resident of the name, specialty and means of contacting the physicians responsible for the residents care.
  • Facilities must inform the resident, his or her guardian or interested family member of any deterioration of the resident's health or if the physician wishes to change treatment.
  • Facilities must provide the resident access to his or her medical records within one business day, and a right to copies of the records at a reasonable cost.
  • Facilities must provide a written description of a residents rights, explaining state laws relevant to living wills, durable powers of attorney, etc., along with a copy of the facilities policy on carrying out these directives. This becomes particularly important when a facility refuses to honor the residents advance directive relevant to end-of-life decisions, the use of feeding tubes, ventilators and respirators.
  • The resident has a right to privacy, which extends to all aspects of care.
  • A resident may not be moved to a different room, different nursing home, a hospital or back home without advanced notice, and an opportunity for appeal.

As the baby boomers come of age it is inevitable that a significant number of them will spend some time in a nursing home. Knowledge of their rights will be of critical importance for them, their families and their friends.