We live in scary times, with rules and guidelines concerning the coronavirus pandemic changing practically every day. This is especially true for nursing homes, where there’s a greater risk of complications for residents who get COVID-19. Because older people are more vulnerable to this disease, and because many circumstances make nursing homes potential breeding grounds for viral infections, nursing homes have had to limit visitors and isolate their residents.
If you have loved ones living in a nursing home, you may be experiencing a lot of concern and anxiety for their well-being. This can be more upsetting if you’re unable to see them in any way due to travel limitations or bans on visitors. You may not know how you can support your loved one in a nursing home or what rights they have.
That’s why we’ve put together this guide to help you navigate the rights you and your loved ones have during this time of COVID-19.
Residents’ Rights in Long-Term Care Facilities
Your loved one has certain rights as a resident of a long-term care facility. These include, but are not limited to, receiving proper medical care; being free from neglect, abuse, and discrimination; participating in activities; having a family member, legal representative, or doctor informed of changes in treatment or condition; being treated with respect and dignity; the ability to make complaints without fear of repercussions; and having family and friends visit and participate in care.
Your state may also dictate more rights beyond what the CMS protects on the federal level. Even though your loved one has a right to visitation, this is being temporarily restricted for the greater well-being of all residents and staff in these facilities.
Visitation Rights for Nursing Homes
As of the writing of this article, just over 30 states and Washington DC are allowing visitors at nursing homes with strict rules to protect everyone inside, including face coverings, sanitizing, and social distancing.
Ultimately, local and state authorities are responsible for how and when visitation can resume. Some states are requiring or recommending that nursing home visits take place outside, where the risk of spreading the coronavirus is considerably lower.
In the 20 or so states that do not allow nursing home visits yet, the long-term care facilities are still in lockdown, with only essential staff and vendors allowed inside. Some are making exceptions for “end-of-life” visits, also known as “compassionate care situations,” in which immediate family members can visit a resident who is close to death.
You can check AARP’s guide on nursing home visitation in the US to see whether your state allows visitation.
Transparency Requirements for Nursing Homes About COVID-19
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) requires nursing homes to tell residents and their families (or representatives) of a positive coronavirus case on-site within 12 hours of its confirmation. They are also required to report any cases to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Not every state is making the names of nursing homes with confirmed cases public.
Despite these requirements, some believe they are not enough. If you are concerned that a nursing home may not have contacted you about positive COVID-19 cases, you can contact them about the number of cases and deaths at the facility as well as the measures they’re taking to protect their residents. If they are not transparent, there are steps you can take to report the facility (outlined below).
Some are making exceptions for “end-of-life” visits, also known as “compassionate care situations,” in which immediate family members can visit a resident who is close to death
How to Report Complaints or Concerns
The first step when you have a concern or complaint about your loved one’s nursing home is to try to talk to the facility. Get as much of a full picture of the situation as you can, and be prepared to ask questions regarding your concern.
If the facility is not responsive or forthcoming, you can contact your state’s long-term care ombudsman. These programs are put into place to protect older people in every state and DC, Puerto Rico, and Guam. They address problems related to the safety and wellbeing of nursing home residents, and they can help you advocate for your loved one. They can also investigate and resolve your complaint with the long-term care facility.
If that doesn’t solve the problem, you can also file a complaint with your state’s survey agency. They inspect nursing homes and enforce CMS regulations. Right now, they are prioritizing issues related to infection control, so if your complaint is unrelated to that, it may not be dealt with immediately.
Deciding Whether to Take Your Loved One Out of Their Nursing Home
If you’re thinking about pulling your loved one from their care facility, consider a few questions before making a decision. How is the facility handling the pandemic? Are staff and residents being screened for the coronavirus? Are there confirmed cases at the nursing home?
Other things to consider include whether you can provide adequate care for your loved one outside the facility, or if in-home care is an option in your state. And of course, you want to consider whether your loved one can return to the nursing home after the pandemic, or if leaving the facility will affect their Medicaid eligibility.
Ways You Can Support Your Loved Ones
We’re fortunate to live in an age where virtual visiting is accessible to nearly all of us. You can stay connected to loved ones living in nursing homes through video chats and televisits. If you’re not sure whether your loved one’s nursing home is set up for virtual connection, give them a call to see if they’re offering any visitation alternatives.
Video chats can be more useful than just to check in. You can take your loved one with you on a walk, showing them scenery they can’t see in person right now. You can even share a meal together or watch a movie simultaneously.
Beyond digital connection, you can send handwritten cards or letters or have their favorite meal delivered to them from a local restaurant (though you may need to check if the nursing home allows this first).
James Swartz, our Managing and Principal Attorney at Swartz & Swartz P.C., is a nationally recognized and respected trial attorney as well as consumer advocate. His practice focuses on cases involving negligence, torts, products liability, medical malpractice, wrongful death, and other claims involving catastrophic injuries.
If you or someone you know, needs help from a lawyer, contact the law offices of Swartz & Swartz, use our live chat, or send us a message using the form below and we’ll get in touch to assess your case and how we can help.