A Bill Of Rights For The Elderly

In 1791, James Madison wrote the Bill of Rights to provide constitutional protection for individual liberties and prevent the abuse of governmental power. Nearly 200 years later, in 1987, the federal Nursing Home Reform Law was written to include the guarantee of certain rights to some of our country’s most vulnerable citizens — nursing home residents. All nursing homes which participate in Medicare or Medicaid must meet the requirements of this bill of rights. Additionally, some states – South Carolina included – have enacted state laws to protect the rights of residents of nursing homes, assisted living facilities and adult care homes.

The federal 1987 Nursing Home Reform Law protects the following rights of nursing home residents.

  1. The right to be fully informed of available services and their charges; facility rules and regulations; the contact information for the State Ombudsman; inspection/survey reports about the nursing home; advance notice of a change in rooms or roommates. Accommodation must be made for sensory impairment and information provided in a language the resident understands.
  2. The right to complain by presenting grievances to staff or any other person (including the ombudsman program and state authorities) without fear of reprisal and with prompt efforts by the facility to resolve those grievances.
  3. The right to participate in one’s own care by being informed of all changes in one’s own medical condition; being a partner in the planning of care, treatment and discharge; refusing medication and treatment; refusing chemical and physical restraints; having access to one’s own medical record; and being free of charges for services covered by Medicaid or Medicare.
  4. The right to privacy by having private and unrestricted communication with any person of their choice; enjoying privacy and confidentiality during treatment of one’s personal needs and regarding medical, personal or financial affairs.
  5. The right to remain in the nursing facility unless a transfer or discharge is necessary or appropriate under limited and specific conditions (such as, when necessary to protect the safety of other residents or staff) and only after 30 days’ notice.
  6. The right to dignity, respect and freedom from mental and physical abuse, corporal punishment, involuntary seclusion, and physical and chemical restraints; to have self-determination; and to enjoy the security of one’s possessions.
  7. The right to have visits from one’s own physicians, relatives, friends, and social organizations, and the right to refuse such visits.
  8. The right to make personal decisions about clothing and activities; to participate in a residents’ council; to have one’s needs and preferences accommodated, if reasonable; and to manage one’s own financial affairs.

Even before the Congress passed the Nursing Home Reform Law, the South Carolina legislature enacted Title 44 Chapter 81, the “Bill of Rights for Residents of Long-Term Care Facilities.” It applies to residents of all intermediate care facilities, nursing care facilities, or residential care facilities subject to regulation and licensure by the State Department of Health and Environmental Control. While many of its provisions are similar to those listed above, the South Carolina law also extends rights to “the resident’s legal guardian” and includes some important additions, such as the right to conjugal visits; housing of married residents together unless medically contraindicated; and the right to treatment without discrimination as to sex, race, color, religion, national origin, or source of payment.

Just as the Louthian Law Firm stands ready to protect the interests of nursing home patients who have been physically or mentally abused, we believe in safeguarding the rights of nursing home patients to dignity, privacy, and all of the other choices and privileges they are due under federal and state law. If your loved one has been a victim of nursing home abuse or negligence anywhere in South Carolina, call us at (803) 454-1200.

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