When unable to care for loved ones in a home setting, families look for alternative living arrangements, such as a nursing home, that can provide the higher level of services and care needed. Many families invest time in researching and visiting nursing home facilities before making a decision as to where to place their loved one. On the surface, these nursing homes may appear nice and suitable, but how do you know what happens to your loved one when you’re not there? Who watches the caretakers you’ve entrusted with your loved one’s care?
There is governmental oversight of nursing homes. In the late 1980s, Congress passed The Nursing Home Reform Act in an effort to ensure nursing home residents receive the highest quality care. This is a federal act that requires nursing homes to meet specified standards in order to receive Medicare and Medicaid funding. The oversight of these nursing facilities is done through federal-state partnerships and include regular surveys, inspections, and enforcement actions. The Act also enumerated the “Residents’ Bill of Rights,” which gives each person certain freedoms and rights while residing at a nursing facility. These include the right to freedom from abuse, mistreatment and neglect; the right to privacy; the right to be fully informed, and the right to freely voice grievances or complaints.
While many of the approximately 15,000 nursing homes nationwide uphold strong care standards, others have fallen significantly short. A recent U.S. Senate report identified approximately 400 facilities across the country that “substantially failed” to meet required Medicare and Medicaid care standards and had a “persistent record of poor care.” This report is very troubling and indicates that you cannot rely solely on governmental oversight to ensure your loved one is receiving proper care.
So, what can you do to help ensure the health and safety of your loved one? Vigilance is key. There’s a tendency to relax once the selection process is complete, and the move is made. Staying engaged and informed can help surface potential issues. Visit regularly. Know the certification standards nursing homes are required to meet and understand your loved one’s rights. Be an advocate for your loved one by listening and working with staff on any concerns. If your loved one’s health is declining, demand to speak with the nursing home physician to have your questions answered and if you are not satisfied with the care and treatment, demand your loved one be transferred to a hospital. Be alert to what’s happening. Is there significant staff turnover? Are you seeing a decline in housekeeping or things such as food quality? Is your loved one showing signs of neglect or abuse? Know the facility’s grievance procedure (all Medicare and/or Medicaid-certified facilities are required to have one) and your state’s oversight agency to file a complaint or share a concern. In addition, Medicare provides additional information on reporting any problems.
If you do have serious questions about your loved one’s care or what avenues of recourse you may have, consulting a trusted legal professional experienced in malpractice and nursing home abuse may help you determine your best next steps.