Elder Abuse: What Rights Do Nursing Home Residents Have?

Most people who live in nursing homes and other residential facilities are there because they need some type of extra help. Sometimes, that’s as simple as needing someone to prepare regular meals and make sure the resident takes the right medication at the right times. In other cases, the resident may need help with things like getting in and out of bed, getting dressed, and using the restroom.

This dependence makes nursing home residents vulnerable, and can leave residents feeling powerless. But, nursing home residents have rights just like any other person–and also some specific rights under both federal law and Florida law. If a nursing home resident is being mistreated, an experienced nursing home abuse attorney can help.

Nursing Home Resident Rights

If you’re entering a nursing home or have a loved one who lives in a residential facility, it’s important to educate yourself about the rights protected by state and federal law. You probably assume–correctly–that nursing homes may be liable for damages in situations such as:

  • Physical or sexual abuse by staff
  • Negligent failure to prevent physical or sexual abuse by another resident
  • Failure to provide appropriate nutrition
  • Failure to provide appropriate medication
  • Failure to provide appropriate medication on schedule
  • Negligent safety practices, such as fall prevention

You may even know that the facility may be liable for mental abuse and other forms of neglect. But, many people assume–incorrectly–that the facility has absolute or near-absolute decision-making power about things like bedtime, visitors, and outings. In fact, both state and federal law go a long way toward protecting resident autonomy and engagement.

Federal Protection for Residents of Nursing Homes

Federal law protects a wide range of basic rights for those in residential care facilities, including:

  • Freedom to make your own choices about issues like when to get up in the morning or go to sleep and which activities to participate in.
  • Freedom from discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, age, or religion.
  • Freedom from abuse and neglect, including physical, verbal, mental, and sexual abuse.
  • Freedom from restraints that are not necessary for medical or safety reasons.

Federal law also provides affirmative rights, including:

  • The right to make a complaint and have it addressed in a timely manner.
  • The right to appropriate and informed medical care.
  • The right to have your representative notified if you’re injured, your medical situation worsens, there are significant changes in your treatment, or you are being transferred or discharged.
  • The right to written disclosure of all nursing home services and fees (including those paid by another source) before you move in and whenever they change.
  • The right to manage your own money or choose someone to manage it for you.
  • The right to privacy, including private phone calls and visits, and the ability to keep and use personal property (with some restrictions based on rights, health and safety of other residents).
  • The right to access social services for issues such as counseling, contacting legal and financial professionals, and discharge planning.

Protections Under Florida State Law

There is some overlap between federal protections for nursing home residents and the protection offered by Florida state law. But, Florida law goes further in some areas. Florida law requires that all nursing home facilities adopt a statement of resident rights and responsibilities and comply with that statement. These facilities are required to guarantee residents:

  • The right to be free from mental and physical abuse, corporal punishment, extended involuntary seclusion, and from physical and chemical restraints except in limited circumstances authorized by a physician or in an emergency situation by a licensed nurse
  • The right to civil and religious liberties;
  • The right to private, uncensored communication, which broadly includes (but is not limited to):
    • Sending and receiving unopened mail and other correspondence,
    • Telephone access,
    • Visitors of the resident’s choice during facility visiting hours,
    • Visits outside the facility, including overnight visits as allowed by facility policies, physicians’ orders, and applicable Medicare/Medicaid regulations,
  • Access to providers of social services, legal services, healthcare services and other services
  • The right to file grievances on their own behalf or on behalf of others
  • The right to work with other residents for improvements in resident care
  • The right to organize and participate in resident groups in the facility
  • The right to have family meet with other residents’ families within the facility
  • The right to participate in social, religious and community activities, so long as those activities do not interfere with the rights of other residents
  • The right to manage their own financial affairs or choose someone to manage them
  • The right to support services such as health care, mental health services, and rehabilitative services
  • The right to freedom of choice in selecting a personal physician
  • The right to privacy when medical treatment or personal care services are being performed
  • The right to retain and use personal clothing and possessions as space permits, unless it is contrary to physician instructions or would infringe the rights of other residents
  • The right to be treated courteously, fairly, and with dignity

Residents also have the right to certain types of information, including:

  • The most recent inspection report for the facility
  • A quarterly accounting of any financial transactions the facility has made on behalf of the resident
  • Available services and related fees
  • Adequate information about their medical condition and proposed treatment (with limited exceptions relating to incapacity or emergency care)

Protecting Your Loved One’s Rights in a Nursing Home

The first step is educating yourself. This list, while wide-ranging, is not comprehensive. You can read the statutory rights and limitations on those rights in greater detail by following the links in each section above.

In some situations, you may be able to protect your family member simply by pointing out to the facility staff that you are aware of these rights and politely insisting that they be honored. This can be especially useful when the issue involves you or others who can help to ensure that the rules are followed. For example, if the facility is unreasonably restricting visitation or isn’t allowing your resident to participate in an activity, you can assert your right to visit or speak with the coordinator of the activity.

In some situations, though, you may need the assistance of an experienced nursing home abuse lawyer. It’s particularly important to talk with a nursing home lawyer as soon as possible if you suspect that your loved one is being physically, mentally, or sexually abused, or if they have suffered an injury due to suspected negligence.

Talk to a Nursing Home Abuse Attorney Now

Here at Harrell & Harrell, we are an injury law firm with attorneys on staff that specialize in protecting the rights of nursing home residents. To learn more about how we can help your family member, call 904-251-1111 or fill out the contact form on this site.