Knowing Your Rights As A Resident In A Nursing Home

A nursing home is, for all intents and purposes, your home. It should be a safe, clean, and comfortable environment where you can use your own belongings and count on clean linens, private closet space, comfortable lighting and temperature, and low noise levels.

You have the same rights and protections as all United States citizens, even as a resident of a nursing home. These rights can vary under state law. Once you understand what they are, however, you can better protect yourself or your loved one if you feel that these rights have been violated.

The nursing home must tell you what your legal rights are and give you a written description of them in a language that you understand. It must also provide you with all the rules and regulations regarding your conduct and responsibilities during your stay in the home.

These actions must be performed before or at the time you are admitted to the nursing home. You must also acknowledge in writing that you have received the information being delivered to you. Be sure to keep this and any other information you get from the nursing home in case you need to review it later.

Federal law specifies that a nursing home must protect and promote the following rights of each resident:

Access to records:

The nursing home is obligated by law to provide residents with access to all their records within 24 hours. You also have the right to photocopy your records for a standard fee after giving the nursing home two days’ notice.

Filing complaints:

Facilities are supposed to provide residents with a statement that they or their advocates may file a complaint with the state or certification agency concerning abuse, neglect, misappropriation of resident property, and non-compliance with Advance Directives for Health Care requirements. Facilities must also provide residents with the names, addresses and telephone numbers of all state client advocacy groups where complaints can be filed.

Freedom from restraint or mistreatment:

You have the right to refuse restraint, unless you are at risk of harming yourself or others.

It is against the law for a nursing home to use physical or chemical restraints unless they are necessary to treat your medical symptoms. Restraints may not be used for punishment or for the convenience of the nursing home staff.

A physical restraint is any manual method, or physical or mechanical device, material, or equipment attached or next to your body that you can’t remove easily, which restricts your freedom of movement or normal access to your own body.

A chemical restraint is a drug that is used for discipline or convenience and not required to treat your medical symptoms.

You also have the right to be free from verbal, sexual, physical, and mental abuse, corporal punishment, and involuntary seclusion.

If you feel you have been abused or neglected, report it to the nursing home, your family, your local Long-Term Care Ombudsman, or State Survey Agency. It may be appropriate to report the incident of abuse to local law enforcement or the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. Their telephone number should be posted in the nursing home.

The nursing home is legally required to investigate and report to the proper authorities all alleged violations and any injuries of unknown origin within five working days of the incident.

Freedom to choose:

You have the freedom to choose activities, schedules, and health care consistent with your interests, assessments, and plans of care. You must be able to interact with members of the community, including family and friends, both inside and outside the facility. Facilities that limit visitations are acting contrary to the law. Visitors should have open and free access to residents at all times, based upon the resident’s choices.

You also don’t have to see any visitor you don’t wish to see.

Freedom from Discrimination:

Nursing homes must comply with Civil Rights laws that prohibit discrimination based on race, color, national origin, disability, age, or religion under certain conditions.

Information on Services and Fees:

You must be informed, in writing, about all facility services and fees before you move into the nursing home. If Medicare or Medicaid pays for your care, the nursing home can’t require a minimum entrance fee as a condition of your admission. The nursing home must also inform you when any services and fees change.


You have the right to manage your own money or to choose someone you trust to do this for you.

If you have the nursing home hold, safeguard, manage, or account for your personal funds that are deposited with the facility, you must sign a written statement that allows it to do so. The nursing home can’t require you to deposit your personal funds with the facility. They must allow you access to your bank accounts, cash, and other financial records.

Privacy, Property, and Living Arrangements:

You have the right to keep and use your personal belongings and property, as long as they don’t interfere with the rights, health, or safety of others. You also have the right to send and receive mail. Nursing home staff should never open your mail unless you allow it. You have the right to use a telephone and talk privately.

The nursing home must protect your property from theft. This may include a safe in the facility or cabinets with locked doors in resident rooms.

If you and your spouse live in the same nursing home, you are entitled to share a room. You have the right to reject a move to an inappropriate room. The nursing home must also notify you before your room or your roommate is changed.

You have the right to review the nursing home’s health and fire safety inspection results.

Medical Care:

You have the right to be fully informed, in a language you understand, about your total health status, including your medical condition and medications. You have the right to see your own doctor, and to take part in developing your care plan. You have the right to self-administer medications, or to refuse medications and treatments.

You have the right to create an Advance Directive for Health Care.

The nursing home must notify your physician and, if known, your legal representative or an interested family member when:

  • You are involved in an accident that results in an injury or may require a physician’s intervention.
  • Your treatment needs to change significantly.
  • The nursing home decides to transfer or discharge you from the facility.

Social Services:

The nursing home must provide you with any needed social services. This includes counseling, help solving problems with other residents, help in contacting legal and financial professionals, and discharge planning.

Leaving the Nursing Home:

You can choose to move to another facility, but the nursing home may have a policy that requires you to tell them before you plan to leave. If you don’t, you may have to pay an extra fee.

It is possible to spend time away from the nursing home visiting friends or family during the day or overnight, if your health allows and your doctor agrees. If you want to do this, it’s a good idea to talk to the nursing home staff a few days ahead of time, so medication and care instructions can be prepared.

Be aware that you may not be able to leave for visits without losing your coverage if your nursing home care is covered by certain health insurance.


You have the right to make a complaint to the staff of the nursing home, or any other person, without fear of punishment. The nursing home must resolve the issue promptly.

Protection Against Unfair Transfer or Discharge:

You can’t be sent to another nursing home, unless any of the following are true:

  • It is necessary for the welfare, health, or safety of you or others.
  • Your health has declined to the point that the nursing home can’t meet your care needs.
  • Your health has improved to the point that nursing home care is no longer necessary.
  • The nursing home hasn’t been paid for services you received.
  • The nursing home closes.

Except in emergencies, nursing homes must give a thirty (30) day written notice of their plan and reason to discharge or transfer you. You cannot be discharged without a safe discharge plan. You have the right to appeal a transfer to another facility.

A nursing home also can’t make you leave if you are waiting to get Medicaid, and it should work with other state agencies to get payment if a family member or other individual is holding your money.

Resident Groups:

You have a right to form a resident group to discuss issues and concerns about the nursing home’s policies and operations. The home must give you meeting space, and must listen to and act upon grievances and recommendations of the group.

Information on how to apply for and use Medicare and Medicaid:

The nursing home must provide (orally and in writing) and prominently display written information about how to apply for and use Medicare and Medicaid benefits. They must also provide information on how to receive refunds for previous payments covered by such benefits.

Vermont Law: Rights of a Resident in a Nursing Home

Vermont has its own set of residents’ rights as a part of the Vermont nursing home laws and regulations. These rights are always readily available to you online and through the nursing home. They are similar to the rights listed above and include:

  • The right to be treated with respect and dignity.
  • The right to make a complaint without fear of punishment.
  • The right to communicate as you choose.
  • The right to refuse visitors.
  • The right to receive care without abuse.
  • The right to be free from physical or medical restraints at all times except when necessary to prevent injury.
  • The right to keep your personal belongings, within reason.
  • The right to vote.
  • The right to participate in events and activities.
  • The right to remain in your room unless you have been transferred or discharged from the facility.
  • The right to participate in religious activities.
  • The right to return to the nursing home in the wake of a hospital stay.
  • The right to receive help from Medicaid in order to pay for care.
  • The right to stay in the facility unless it adversely affects the wellbeing of other residents, it can no longer provide care needed, the bill has not been paid, the facility is closing, or a court has required a transfer.
  • The right to privacy.
  • The right to send and receive mail without monitoring.
  • The right to refuse care or treatment as long as it is permitted by law.
  • The right to know the services offered by the facility.

This is only the beginning of the Vermont nursing home laws and regulations, which are quite extensive. Whether nursing home laws are state or federal, they share the common purpose of protecting the elderly from neglect, abuse and exploitation.

If you have any questions about your rights, or to begin your estate planning process, please contact us at Aaron J. Goldberg, PLC.



“Used with permission 2016”


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Attorneys with Aaron J. Goldberg, PLC are members of the Vermont Bar Association and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.