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Are nursing home patients protected under federal law?


“Are nursing home patients protected under federal law?”

-Tom, Edina, Minnesota

Although many nursing home patients frequently feel trapped within the situation they are currently in, nursing home patients actually have many rights granted to them under federal law.  Federal law empowers nursing home patients to make decisions with respect to their medical treatment and personal care.

Federal law guarantees the following:

1. The right to participate in your care planning along with the right to refuse particular treatments.

A customized care plan must be developed for every nursing home patient.  Nursing home patients (or their representatives) may participate in developing this important part of patient care.

2. The right to privacy and to be treated with dignity and respect.

Nursing home patients are free to communicate any person they wish.  This includes: friends, family, attorneys and patient advocates.  Nursing home patients are entitled to privacy when speaking with visitors.

Unless requested otherwise, nursing home patients are entitled to open their own mail.

Nursing home staff should take steps to ensure privacy during bathing, toileting, and providing medical treatments by using curtains or private areas when necessary.

3. The right to have your own physician and/or pharmacy.

Despite the fact that many nursing homes are set up for a ‘one size fits all’ approach to care, YOU ARE entitled to select your own physician and pharmacy.

4. The right to be free from restraints.

Physical and pharmacutial restraints may only be used if ordered by a physician and agreed to by the patient or their caretaker.  Moreover, restraints should be used only when they are necessary to protect the individual or other patients from harm or injury.

5. The right to be informed of nursing home policies and procedures.

Policies and procedures regarding patient care and patient expectations must be written out by each nursing home.  When requested, a facility should present you with a copy of such policies.

6. The right to know about all medical care and conditions.

Nursing homes must tell each patient or their caregiver as to their medical condition and the treatment to be provided.  When and if there is a change in care, nursing homes must alert all the decision makers.

7. The right to know of the services the facility provides and the exact charges for such services.  

Nursing home must inform all patients as to the specific services provided and what the accompanying charge is for such service.

8. The right to privacy when it comes to your medical records.

Federal law prohibits disclosure of personal medical records to any person or entity without the written permission of the patient or their authorized representative. 

9. The right to use your own clothing and possessions.

Despite the fact that many nursing homes freely distribute generic clothing and effects, patients are entitled to use their own clothing and possessions if they desire.

10. The right to manage personal finances.

Many nursing homes mange their patients’ finances for them.  This is legal.  In some circumstances this is done as a convenience for patients and to help expedite payment of bills.  If you do choose to allow a nursing home to manage your finances, you are entitled to: a) see an itemization as to where you money is; 2) received a written accounting for each account and expenditure; 3) get a receipt for all money  spent on your behalf; and 4) have access to your funds if you desire.

11. The right to be free from abuse in any form including: physical, sexual, neglect or isolation.

Nursing homes must provide the highest feasible level of care.  Obviously, this entitles patients to live comfortably and free from physical and emotional abuse in any form.

12. The right to stay at a nursing home as long as the facility is capable of attending to medical needs, payment is timely made and the facility continues to operate.

In other words, nursing homes CAN NOT simply discharge patients without cause.  In order for nursing homes to properly discharge patients, they must provide a reason for discharge or transfer. If you disagree with the nursing homes reasoning, patients have a right to appeal the facilities decision.

13. The right to speak freely about poor care.

Nursing home can not take any retaliatory action against a patient for making a complaint regarding care or treatment.

14. The right to have visitors.

Nursing homes are ‘homes’ for the patients who live there either on a temporary or permanent basis. Consequently, nursing homes must:

a) Allow patients to receive any visitor of their choosing.

b) All patients to refuse any visitor of their choosing.

c) Provide at least 8 hours per day of scheduled visiting hours.

d) Allow patient advocates and / or patient attorneys access to the facility during visiting hours.

e) Provide an area for confidential communications between patient and visitors if and when requested.

f) Patients may speak freely to visitors regarding rights and benefits.

The above rights are undeniable.  Additionally, many states have enacted laws to further protect nursing home residents.  If a nursing home is not meeting its obligations, you should contact your state or local nursing home ombudsman.

For more information on nursing homes in Minnesota look here.
Learn more about the laws applicable to Minnesota nursing homes here.
Click on the links for information on nursing homes in Minneapolis , Rochester and St. Paul

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    Another Harvest Moon is a sensitive drama about four elderly Americans coping with life in a nursing home. Starring: Ernest Borgnine, Anne Meara, Doris Roberts and Piper Laurie.
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  • Jeff W.

    My mother is to be admitted to a physical rehab facility following shoulder surgery.
    What should we look out for, like contracts that waive their right to sue in court as opposed to arbitration?
    Jeff W.

  • Jeff-
    Take a look at the admission paperwork— and don’t be afraid to take your time! If see an area where you have questions– ask! If time allows, you may want to have an attorney review the admission paperwork for you.
    If you see any arbitration clauses, I suggest that you simply strike the language that you disagree with.

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