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Nursing Home Residents: 5 Legal Rights

What are a resident's rights at a nursing home? Many may be wondering after the death of a resident at a senior living facility in California late last month. A nurse at the facility refused to perform CPR on the 87-year-old woman, despite pleas from a 911 dispatcher.

The deceased woman's daughter, herself a nurse, didn't blame the staffer for apparently abiding by the facility's "no CPR" policy. It should be noted the facility was an "independent living facility," which is legally different from a nursing home.

Still, the incident raises questions about the legal rights of residents and patients at senior care facilities like nursing homes. Here are five rights that generally apply to all residents:

  1. The right to be treated with respect and dignity. This is a catch-all and it sounds vague. But with horror stories of atrocious disrespect that some incapacitated patients have endured in the hands of criminally abusive nurses, it's an important right; the line can be crossed very easily.

  2. The right to privacy. A nursing home resident has the right to privacy, which generally extends to a resident's belongings as well. You can keep your personal belongings and use them, so long as they don't interfere with anyone else's safety.

  3. The right to be informed of services and fees. The fine print in a nursing home contract is very important to read before you sign off on it. The agreement should spell out the amenities and services the resident is to expect at the facility, and how much those services will cost.

  4. The right to medical care. You always have the right to be informed about your medical condition and to see your own doctor. But note that nursing homes and assisted living homes will generally provide more medical care than independent living facilities for the elderly.

  5. The right to manage your money. A nursing home resident does not have to give up the right to handle his own money and should never feel coerced into making any financial decisions. Before going into a nursing home, it's a good idea to talk to an experienced estate planning lawyer to draft up some critical estate planning documents, such as a living will and a financial power of attorney.

Nursing homes must list these rights and make residents aware of them in writing, according to Medicare.gov. For more guidance about what to look for when choosing a nursing home, check out this comprehensive nursing home checklist.

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