Seniors and Their Rights in Long-Term Care Facilities

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At the skilled nursing facility where I work, we remind seniors that they all have rights. Their rights put them in charge of their experience in the facility and can direct their plan of treatment, as well as their personal way of living.

Well, we have a resident who prefers to wear only his underwear during the day. Yes, he’s totally alert, and there’s no trace of dementia. Of course, he has his rights, but sometimes resident’s rights can get a bit tricky to interpret. There are boundaries and then there are dignity issues.

I often run into situations where residents will request or even do something outrageous. Though, I’m a little too shy to share some of those stories with you today (blush, blush).

If your senior parents have specific requests that may be out of the norm and you’re worried about their rights, you should know that there are both state and federal regulations that protect them in long term care facilities.

Seniors who live in long-term care (LTC) facilities are definitely more vulnerable than seniors who live independently. In 1987, the U. S. Congress recognized this fact and passed The Nursing Home Reform Act that gave nursing home residents additional legal protections, including a set of Residents Rights.

In 1995, the Washington State Long-Term Care Ombudsman successfully persuaded the Washington legislature to extend Residents Rights to other LTC facilities such as assisted living facilities, adult family homes and state operated veterans’ homes. The point was to advance consumer healthcare education and to empower older adults and their family members to make informed long-term care decisions.

To review the full list of 12 Residents Rights, go to Care 2 Stay. It includes all aspects of long-term care stay starting from the day of admission, lasting throughout their stay to the day of their discharge.

Let’s dig into 5 of them right now:

1. You can communicate with whom you choose.
This means that seniors can make decisions about all aspects of their daily living. So, the minute a senior wakes up in the morning, he can actually determine the time he wants to get up. Some residents believe that if they don’t get up early for breakfast, they would miss their first meal. Not so.

2. Right to participate in and decide your plan of care.
Everyone has the right to refuse care. As health care professionals, we will explain the risks and benefits to you, just to make sure you understand the consequences. For example, nurses may run into the dilemma of a senior declining his medications. This is a tough one and a common one. I personally work with seniors who refuse to eat, every single day.

3. Right to information.
All healthcare professionals will document everything about you, even if you are misbehaving. And, you have the right to read all about it.

4. Right to privacy and respect.
You must be respected and the residents around you must also be respected. The underwear story fits into this one. Again, healthcare professionals will educate you on the risks or benefits of your decisions.

5. Right to hold resident and family meetings.

You have the right to participate in resident gatherings in the facility; lots of meetings are usually going on. And, if you like, you can call a meeting as often as you wish.

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