When an elderly person is admitted to a long-term care facility, most families want reassurance that their loved one will be provided excellent and dignified care in a healthy and safe environment. Due to physical or cognitive limitations, an individual that depends on others for their care can be at risk for mistreatment that can lead to a further decline in health or even death. Protecting our most vulnerable population starts with long-term care professionals empowering residents by guarding their rights. It is with that consideration that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) revamped the Residents’ Rights portion of the 1987 Nursing Home Reform Law.
A mix of new guidelines and more detailed clarifications of the original provisions, the changes reinforce a commitment to keeping all residents safer. Many of the revisions address issues that impact 21st century civil rights and sensibilities such as providing equal treatment and access for same sex spouses. CMS also updated language about residents’ communication privacy. The original rule addressed only telephone usage. The expanded language affirms that residents have the right to retain and use cellphones, internet and facilities must provide reasonable access to other telephone services, including TTY and TDD for the hearing or speech impaired.
The shift in home demographics that includes increasing numbers of ethnic minorities in long-term care is also reflected. According to the Center for Medicare Advocacy, “between 1998 and 2008, the number of elderly Hispanic people living in nursing homes increased by 54.9%, the number of elderly Asians living in nursing homes increased by 54.1%, and the number of elderly African-Americans living in nursing homes increased by 10.8%.” With such considerations in mind, CMS has mandated that residents must be informed of their rights, responsibilities and total health status in a language that they understand. Furthermore, care plans must incorporate residents’ personal and cultural preferences.
Although CMS has provided the framework for giving dignified and respectful care in an ever-changing society, it’s one part of the larger whole. Ultimately, the onus is on providers to protect their residents by upholding the provisions and values of Residents’ Rights. Doing this while creating an informed and supportive culture in facilities can empower residents to be active allies in their care and protection. The federal law requires nursing homes to promote and protect residents’ rights, but it’s providers who have the opportunity to give them a voice in their care and how they choose to live.
– Teri R. Sumbry, Marketing & Events Coordinator