Nursing Home CARE Matters Month

October has been declared Nursing Home Residents’ Rights Month. Our seniors who reside in assisted living facilities, nursing homes and other facilities are among the most vulnerable group in our society. Reports of abuse, sexual assault, pushing, restraining and ridiculing residents as well as abandoning them, failing to bathe, feed or help with basic hygiene is not all that uncommon. Statistics show that 10% of all nursing home residents suffer some form of abuse each year. About 90% of nursing homes are understaffed, leading to errors in administering medications, lack of quality care and to offensive if not criminal behavior.

This celebration of residents in nursing facilities is meant to remind residents and others of the rights accorded those in these facilities and that they are entitled to dignity, choice and self-determination.

Residents are encouraged to exercise these rights and to be shown how they can express their concerns, and to whom. Residents and their families are informed regarding what certain agencies are required to do to ensure that residents are safe and secure. Press releases have gone out and conferences held to relay the message that residents have a choice in their care and residential life and a right to a better life during their waning years.

For this year. CARE Matters is the theme of Nursing Home Residents’ Rights Month, an acronym for Choice-Accountability-Rights-Empowerment.


All nursing home residents have a right to choose their type of care and activities and to be accommodated regarding their food, choice of clothing and other preferences. Choice is also expressed in the resident’s quality of care and life. A nursing facility is obligated to provide services and activities so as to provide the highest degree of well-being for each resident. Residents also have the right to have input in their activities, food, health plan and personal schedule.


Facilities are accountable to the residents as well as to regulatory agencies. To be accountable, the facility must undertake measures to assure that residents’ rights are protected, This can be facilitated by meeting with the resident, the long term care ombudsman and other representatives to see how conditions can improve as well as to investigate complaints.

One way to monitor conditions is for surveyors to conduct resident interviews. The process needs to be explained to the resident and family to help prepare for it.

Another method to assure accountability is the complaint process. A 2002 brochure from the National Citizens’ Coalition for Nursing Home Reform gives valuable information about the in-house complaint and grievance process. This would include the resident or family member:

–  Expressing concerns to the staff personally involved in the subject complaint

–  Bringing it to the attention of the staff supervisors if there is no resolution

–  Following the facility’s grievance procedure as mandated by federal Medicaid regulations and state licensing standards

–  Residents and family are entitled to a reasonable response from the facility for any complaint or grievance

–  Contacting the long term care ombudsman who advocates for residents and who has the power to intervene on behalf of the resident and family. The ombudsman can also investigate complaints and work with the facility to arrive at a resolution

–  Setting up a resident council where issues can be presented and changes recommended

The State Survey Agency conducts yearly inspections of nursing homes but must investigate within 2 business days if the complaint threatens the immediate health or safety of the resident.


CARE also means that residents have a right to a high quality of life. The 1987 Nursing Home Reform Law guarantees certain rights to residents, foremost of which are rights to self-determination and dignity. Although amorphous terms, these encompass so many obligations that nursing facilitates are required to provide for its residents.

Residents are entitled to the following:

  • – A copy of residents’ rights
  • – Address and phone number of the state ombudsman and state survey agency
  • – Right to file complaints and grievances without fear of reprisal
  • – Right to quality care and to participate in medical decisions and to review medical      plans
  • – Right to refuse restraints and medications
  • – Right to privacy and confidentiality
  • – Right to choose how to spend free time
  • – Right to reasonable accommodations

These are some of the basic rights that residents are statutorily guaranteed under that legislation.


Family and resident councils within nursing home facilities are also mandated by the 1987 Nursing Home Reform Act. These councils may consist of residents, their families and friends. These groups are entitled to meet with others within the same facility, which must provide private space for them to meet and to act upon any concerns or grievances brought to the staff’s attention. Concerns may be about facility policies, a particular staff member and any other issues affecting the residents’ quality of care and life within the facility.

With the baby boomers entering nursing homes and similar facilities at increasing rates, the issues that affect residents should and will continue to be of concern to them and to their families. We need improvements in many facilities, including achieving adequate staffing levels and proper training. Having residents and their families involved in the process will hold these facilities accountable and lead to a better quality of life for all.