Placing an elderly family member in a nursing home can often be a frustrating and extremely upsetting time for all concerned. In the vast majority of cases, the reasons for using nursing home care are honorable and those decisions are made based on what is best for the elderly relative.
When a family makes the decision to place a parent, grandparent or other elderly relative into a nursing home, they have the right to expect that person will receive the best standards of care and attention. This is usually the main reason why the decision is made in the first place.
What happens, then, when the facility with the nice brochure and whose representative gave all those assurances during the guided tour turns out to be your family’s worst nightmare? Well, for starters, what probably wasn’t listed on the contract you signed when placing your loved one into care were the rights they have and the obligations the nursing home has to look after them. When those rights are violated and the obligations are not fulfilled, you have an absolute right to file a nursing home lawsuit against to recover damages on behalf of the member of your family who has been injured.
Read the nursing home contract carefully
All nursing homes require contracts to be signed when a new resident enters the facility. Be very wary of what you’re signing, and if you have any doubts at all, get an attorney’s advice before signing.
A number of nursing home contracts have been found to contain clauses asking the person signing it to give up certain rights that they shouldn’t, or to assume responsibilities they have no legal obligation to assume. Some of these terms could very well be in breach of Oregon or federal laws. For example:
- Nursing homes cannot, by law, require a third party to guarantee payment as a condition for resident admission. Watch out for clauses that ask you to assume full financial responsibility for the resident’s expenses.
- Nursing homes cannot, no matter what their “house rules” state, restrict the visiting times of immediate family members or other relatives. As long as the resident wants to see you, the only restriction a nursing home can legally place on your being there is to ask that the visit is held in a place that won’t disturb other residents who are sleeping.
- Even friends and non-family members can only have very limited restrictions placed on visiting hours. Know your rights and don’t be put off by a matronly figure’s stern disposition. It is your absolute right to visit the resident whenever both of you feel like it.
- A nursing facility cannot, by law, evict a resident simply because they don’t like them, or because they need the room for someone else who has been on the waiting list, or for many other reasons frequently used.
The resident has rights…lots of them
Being elderly or in need of specialist care should not mean having to sign away one’s dignity. Yet nursing homes that find themselves the subject of lawsuits are frequently deemed to have stripped the resident’s dignity away, as well as inflicting both physical and emotional distress on a vulnerable, helpless person.
Under Oregon State and U.S. laws, nursing home residents have a number of rights that nursing homes frequently don’t want families to know about. These include, in part:
- The right to be informed, orally and in writing, of the nursing home’s policies regarding the protection of the resident’s rights
- All the rights of any other citizen of the United States
- The right to assistance in applying for Medicare or Medicaid, as well as the right to know if the facility is certified under those programs
- The right to be fully informed about their own health and condition
- The right to select their own physician
- The right to refuse treatment or care—a right that is frequently abused by nursing homes
- The right NOT to perform therapeutic activities
- The right not to be punished or involuntarily isolated
- The right to protection from verbal, physical, sexual and mental abuse
- The right not to be restrained through either physical means or by medication, except on a doctor’s order and then only as a last resort to protect the resident themselves
- The right not to be transferred or discharged without just cause and advance notice, and the right to a hearing to stop the proposed change or transfer
- The right to privacy when receiving treatment
- The right to make and receive phone calls and to send and receive mail without interference
- The right to participate in any social, religious or community activity the resident chooses
- The right not be reimbursed for any personal belongings that have been lost or stolen by employees of the nursing home
Finally, the resident has the absolute right to refuse to sign any contract or any agreement which asks the resident to, or claims the resident has, given up any of the above rights.
Signs of nursing home abuse or neglect
Many people see the standard of nursing home care in America as a source of national shame. Some facilities offer first class services, of course. Those that find themselves defending a lawsuit frequently use either an outright denial of the charges of neglect, or a plea of ignorance (from the owners and managers) and that they were completely unaware of the unlawful treatment of the resident.
This is where family and friends play an important role in getting justice for the resident. Signs, as pride, shame or fear may play a role in stopping them from complaining to visitors.
Look for any of the following signs of neglect, and then start asking questions:
- Bed sores, also known as pressure sores
- Dehydration and/or malnutrition
- Signs of abuse or assault
- Restraint injuries including marks on the neck that would indicate strangulation
- Multiple falls and any fracture
- Any incident of the resident wandering off and leaving the facility
- Misdiagnosis of a condition or illness, or the failure to diagnose at all
- Prescription errors, including types of medication and the dosages given
If you see any of these signs or symptoms of neglect, do not rest until you are satisfied with the answers you are given. Speak to someone in authority.
If you are still not satisfied, it’s time to talk to a lawyer. In Oregon, find an attorney with experience in filing, and winning, nursing home lawsuits.
Placing a loved one in a nursing home is traumatic enough. When that family member suffers abuse or neglect in a situation where you thought they would be given care and attention, you have the right to recover damages on their behalf. Your actions could have the added advantage of preventing the future abuse and neglect of other nursing home residents.