How to Advocate for Your Loved One in a Nursing Home

How to Advocate for Your Loved One in a Nursing HomeWhen your parents or loved ones live in a nursing home, it is hard to know whether they are receiving the appropriate care and attention, especially if the nursing home is a good distance away from where you live. While proper care should be the norm in nursing homes, the unfortunate reality is that many older Americans are neglected and abused.

Worrying about your loved one’s care in a nursing home can keep you up at night, but it doesn’t have to. There are several steps you can take to ensure that they are receiving the proper care and attention they deserve.

  1. Make regular visits but at varied times. Visit your loved one often and at different times of the day to get a true sense of their care.
  2. Become familiar with the staff. There are a lot of benefits to getting to know the staff. First, you’ll be able to go to them directly with your concerns. Second, you’ll be able to more easily identify people who shouldn’t be there. Finally, your positive relationship may affect how they treat your loved one.
  3. Escalate serious problems. If a significant problem arises, like unnoticed falls or medication issues, escalate the matter. Start with the assisted living director or director of nursing, and if necessary, involve the executive director. If issues persist, consider looking for a new facility.
  4. Report suspected abuse or neglect. If you suspect abuse or neglect, contact your local long-term care Ombudsman or the National Center on Elder Abuse for guidance. Each state has agencies overseeing long-term care facilities that can investigate complaints. In case of a crime, contact local law enforcement immediately.
  5. Take pictures. If you see injuries on your loved one, or you see unsafe or unsanitary conditions, try to take pictures of the problem. Photographic documentation of abuse or neglect can serve as compelling evidence when presenting your concerns to administrators, your care ombudsman, or to the jury in the eventuality of litigation.
  6. Organize and advocate together. If common problems persist among residents, organize with other family members. Join or start a family council, exercising the rights guaranteed by federal legislation for nursing home residents’ families. Similar rights may apply in assisted living facilities.

In some instances, taking some of these initial steps may be enough to see positive change in your loved one’s care, but if that is not the case, then filing a formal complaint can help to escalate meaningful change.

What do I include in my complaint letter to the nursing home?

Speaking with the nurses, nurses’ aides, and even the director about concerns you have is a good idea; however, sometimes, that simply isn’t enough, and the signs of abuse and neglect may continue even after that. In those cases, filing a formal written complaint about the nursing home is the next step.

Medicare offers a nursing home complaint form template to assist you when filing grievances, but it is not required that you use the form; you can file a separate letter. In either case, this form can help you with understanding what information to include in your complaint, such as:

  • The nursing home’s name and address
  • Your name and address
  • The nursing home resident’s name for whom you are filling out the form.
  • Each complaint and incident, the time of incidents, and any pertinent details concerning any abuse or neglect you have witnessed.
  • Names of witnesses
  • Names of relevant staff

Attach any relevant forms or records to your complaint letter, too.

You should you send this complaint form or letter to your State Survey Agency, and you can choose to send the letter to other governmental authorities, and those who are involved in the care of your loved one.

Others you can send your complaint letter to:

  • Your family
  • Your local Long-Term Care Ombudsman
  • Adult Protective Services (APS) in your state
  • The police or adult social services department

After receiving your complaint, the State Survey Agency will reach out to discuss your concerns and determine the best course of action and expected timeframes. They will also provide you with a contact person’s phone number for further follow-up. If your concern relates to a potential violation of nursing home regulations at the federal or state level, the State Survey Agency will conduct an investigation, which may involve reviewing records, interviewing staff and residents, and observing resident care. If your concern falls outside the State Survey Agency’s jurisdiction, you will be directed to the appropriate agency for further assistance.

When should I contact a nursing home abuse and neglect lawyer?

Reporting instances of abuse or neglect in a nursing home is important for securing your loved one’s safety and care, but pursuing a nursing home abuse lawsuit goes a step further in holding the facility or staff accountable. You should call a nursing home abuse and neglect lawyer if you suspect abuse or neglect, if your loved one has suffered harm, and/or if your complaints have gone unheeded and unaddressed.

Filing a lawsuit not only safeguards vulnerable individuals similar to your loved one, but also serves as a means to seek financial compensation for medical expenses, therapy, and other costs incurred due to the physical and emotional toll of nursing home abuse. By taking legal steps, you not only address the specific case but also send a powerful message that abuse will face consequences, reinforcing the rights and dignity of nursing home residents.

Is there anything I can do to reduce the chance of my elderly loved one being abused?

First, you want to do your research. Find facilities with good reviews and visit them. Talk to the residents (if you can) or ask for an interview with staff as well as administrators. Pay attention to your gut, too: if you feel unsafe, don’t choose that facility.

Once you’ve chosen a place, then visiting your loved one is the best way to reduce the risk of harm. In a Reddit forum called “Life Pro Tips,” a staff member of a skilled nursing facility offered insight into the importance of visiting your loved ones:

When family visits often, that forces the CNAs (the ones doing the brunt of the work) to make sure your loved one is clean just in case you visit. We’re talking a good bed bath, face washed , oral hygiene, fingernails cleaned, brief changes regularly and getting them out of bed regularly.

The ones that aren’t cognitively intact and don’t receive visitors? There’s a good chance they will lay in their own excrement for hours, they’ll have feces and dirt under their fingernails and won’t leave their bed for days (if not weeks) at a time.

Another member of the forum – a social worker – recommended “humanizing” your loved one as much as possible. Her advice was “to make sure the nursing staff sees your loved one as someone who has lived a full and complex life. Tell them stories about your loved one. Decorate their room in ways that display their interests and career. Make them human [because] people get better care when the staff knows them better.”

At Garcia & Artigliere, our mission is to defend the rights and dignity of the elderly community, especially when they are facing abuse and neglect in nursing homes. If your loved one has been abused or neglected at a nursing home, schedule a free consultation with us by filling out our contact form or calling our office. We have offices in Phoenix, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Louisville, and New Orleans. Let us help you and your loved one.