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Nursing Home Occupants Are Not Patients; They Are Residents Who Have Extensive Rights

Approximately 20% of all persons who die every year are residents of nursing homes. Since a nursing home is the last place of residence for such a large percentage of our population, it is very important that all of the rights of nursing home residents be upheld. Federal law requires that a nursing home must care for its residents in such a manner and in such an environment as will promote maintenance or enhancement of the quality of life of each resident.

Federal law requires that nursing homes provide “services and activities to attain or maintain the highest practicable physical, mental, and psychosocial well-being of each resident.” Note that the federal law refers to a person who lives in a nursing home as a “resident,” not a patient. A resident has the right to choose activities, schedules, and health care consistent with his or her interests, assessments, and plans of care. Under federal law, each resident has the right “to reside and receive services with reasonable accommodation of individual needs and preferences, except where the health or safety of the individual or other residents would be endangered.”

Federal law requires that a nursing home must ensure that a resident’s “abilities in activities of daily living do not diminish unless circumstances of the individual’s clinical condition demonstrate that diminution was unavoidable.” Thus, maintaining a condition, or moderating the rate of decline, should always be a goal, even if the nursing home resident is not making progress.

Federal law requires that a nursing home establish and maintain identical policies and practices regarding transfer, discharge, and the provision of services for all individuals “regardless of source of payment.” Thus, a nursing home resident should never be denied the continuation of physical therapy based on the excuse that Medicare will no longer cover it.

Nursing home residents often are susceptible to transfer trauma in being moved from place to place. Federal law gives every nursing home resident the right to veto any intra-facility transfer. Medicare certification of a room does not prevent that room from being used for the care of a resident who pays privately or has payment through the MassHealth (i.e., Medicaid) program.

Immediate family or other relatives are not subject to visiting hour limitations or other restrictions unless imposed by the nursing home resident. Federal law requires that a resident’s “immediate family or other relatives” have the right to visit at any time if the resident consents to the visit. Under federal law, non-family visitors must also be granted “immediate access” to the resident.

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