Residents of nursing homes have as many rights as everyone else. However, they can be overlooked due to the institutional setting and disabilities that prevent many residents from advocating for themselves. It’s important to understand the rights specifically protected for nursing home residents, and how to to be able to enforce them.
Nursing home residents’ rights are protected by federal law. In broad terms, understand that the resident is just that: a resident in their own home, and not a patient. Nursing homes are required to ensure that every nursing home resident be given whatever services are necessary to function at the highest level possible. Some of the specific protections that residents have include the following:
- The right to privacy in all aspects of their care. This means phone calls and mail should be private, and residents should be able to close doors and window blinds. In addition, residents may bring belongings from home, and nursing home staff is required to assist the residents in protecting those belongings.
- The right to go to bed and to 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 right to a choice of main meals offered by the nursing home, because individual tastes and needs vary.
- The right to leave the nursing home and belong to any church or social group they wish to.
- The right to participate in planning their care.
- The right to manage their own financial affairs.
- The right to be free of unnecessary physical or chemical restraints. This prohibits vests, seat belts and other physical restraints, as well as antipsychotic drugs, sedatives and other chemical restraints, except as prescribed by a physician in writing for a limited period of time.
- The right to not be moved arbitrarily. 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, here are some tips for enforcing the resident’s rights. First, talk to the nursing home staff directly. Often this can solve the problem. But if that doesn’t work, talk to a supervisor or administrator. If you feel like the problem is not resolved satisfactorily, the next step is to contact the ombudsperson assigned to the nursing home by your Area Agency on Aging. The ombudsman are familiar with the law and with how nursing homes operate. They can intervene on behalf of the resident to get an appropriate result.
You also have the option of reporting the nursing home to the State of North Carolina, or to hire a lawyer to try and resolve the issues. You may also decide to move the resident to a different facility.
For more information about how to contacting your nursing home ombudsperson in North Carolina, click here.
For some common nursing home myths and realities click here.
There are two separate versions of the Bill of Rights for Assisted Living Residents and for Nursing Home Residents in North Carolina. A condensed version of the North Carolina Residents Bill of Rights can be found here.