New Rules Give New Power to Nursing Home Residents

In a holiday gift of greater dignity and autonomy for nursing home residents, the first of three phases of wide-ranging new regulations, proposed by Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, went into effect late last year. The federal Medicare and Medicaid programs pay for most of the care provided in the nation’s nursing facilities, and nursing homes must comply with government regulations.

According to Kaiser Health News, reported in the Washington Post, the approximately 1.4 million nursing homes residents in the U.S. can now have some more control of their care. A shift toward more “person-centered care” now in effect includes measures that make nursing homes feel more like home:
Residents are entitled to “alternative meals and snacks . . . at non-traditional times or outside of scheduled meal times.”
  • Residents can choose their roommates, meaning siblings or same-sex couples can live together.
  • A resident has “a right to receive visitors of his or her choosing at the time of his or her choosing,” as long as it doesn’t impose on another resident’s rights.
  • Nursing homes must now appoint an official who will handle complaints and follow a strengthened grievance process.
  • Residents can no longer be discharged while appealing the discharge, nor be discharged for nonpayment if they have applied for Medicaid or other insurance, are waiting for a payment decision or are appealing a claim denial.
  • If a nursing home refuses to accept a resident who wants to return from a hospital stay, the resident can appeal the decision. Also, residents who enter the hospital have a right to return to their same room, if it is available.
Additionally, the revised regulations have added financial exploitation to the definition of abuse. Measures to improve the quality of nursing home staffing prohibit the hiring of any licensed professional who has received a disciplinary action because of abuse, neglect, mistreatment or financial exploitation of residents.
While the nursing home industry successfully opposed minimum staffing levels for registered nurses and nursing staff, facilities must have an adequate number of skilled and competent staff to meet residents’ needs, as well as meet specific training requirements for caring for residents with dementia and for preventing elder abuse.
“With proper implementation and enforcement, [the new regulations] could really transform a resident’s experience of a nursing home,” said Robyn Grant, director of public policy and advocacy for the Consumer Voice, a national group that advocates for residents’ rights.
Craig Follis has extensive experience in litigation, negotiating and settling suits, and providing legal opinions on liability and insurance coverage. You can reach him at (888) 703-0109 or via email at


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