When you live in a nursing home you have rights.

Imagine what it feels like to be in a situation where you have no control over what, when and how you get to do things. When I think of losing freedom I think of prison. But more commonly for most of us this happens if you are hospitalized—or if you find yourself in a nursing home.

In other posts I have talked about nursing homes that work hard to provide person-centered care, care that respects and makes accommodations for individual differences. Nursing homes that have adopted the principles of person-centered care tailor schedules to individual resident preferences. For example, if you like to sleep late you can—and have your breakfast later in the morning. If you have always been a night owl you can stay up late, provided you don’t disturb others, of course. But you may not realize that you if you live in a Medicare or Medicaid certified nursing home you have a federally guaranteed right you have to be treated with respect—and part of that right means that you have choice about when to get up in the morning, go to sleep at night and eat. Respect for lifestyle choices may seem like a small thing—but it is very important to a person’s sense of self and quality of life.

The rights that you have as a nursing home resident are guaranteed under the Federal Nursing Home Act of 1987. They are in place to ensure that you receive good care and are treated with respect. Your rights and protections are extensive and cover the care you are entitled to receive, your privacy, your property, your freedoms and more. Nursing homes are required to inform you about your rights, but in most cases there is so much going on when a person is being admitted that no one takes the time to read, and more importantly, to remember these rights.

One important right you have is the right to make a complaint if you feel you are not being treated properly. Of course, the best thing is to take your complaint directly to a supervisor. In many cases problems can be resolved without outside help. However, all states have ombudsman programs and the ombudsman’s role is to be your advocate. If your complaint is not being addressed by the nursing home staff you need to contact your local ombudsman. Nursing homes are required to post contact information for your ombudsman in visible locations. If you do not see posters with this information you can ask for the number to call.

To learn more about your nursing home rights and find an ombudsman in your area check out The National Long Term Care Resource Center.

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