What should I do If I Suspect Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect?

What are Nursing Home Resident Rights Laws? 

Nursing home residents have important rights that are protected by federal and state law. These rights ensure that residents are treated with dignity and respect, and they cover various aspects of their daily lives in the nursing home. From the right to make their own decisions about their care to the right to privacy and a safe environment, these rights are essential for residents’ well-being. They also include the right to voice complaints without fear of retaliation and the right to communicate with family and friends. 

These rights were created in the 1980s in response to widespread abuse, and they have been updated numerous times throughout the years. These rights are meant to protect residents and ensure that they receive the care and support they need while living in a nursing home. These rights include the right to: 

  • To a dignified existence
  • To self-determination
  • To communicate with and access to persons and services outside the nursing home
  • To equal access to quality care regardless of who is paying for the care (Medicare, Medicaid, or private pay)
  • To exercise his or her rights without interference
  • To be free of interference or retaliation for exercising their rights
  • To be informed of and participate in their care
  • To participate in creating their care plan 
  • To be informed, in advance, of any changes in their care
  • To receive items and services listed in the care plan 
  • To see the care plan and sign off on it 
  • To discontinue any treatment or refuse to participate in experimental research 
  • To self-administer medications
  • To choose their attending physician 
  • To be informed of the name, specialty, and way to contact any physician who sees the resident 
  • To respect and dignity
  • To be free from physical restraints
  • To be free from chemical restraints
  • To retain and use personal possessions
  • To receive nursing service with reasonable accommodation 
  • To room with their spouse if married
  • To choose their roommate 
  • To receive written notice of any room change
  • To refuse transfer to another room 
  • To choose activities, schedules, healthcare providers, and healthcare services
  • To make choices about aspects of their life that are significant to them
  • To interact with members of the community 
  • To receive visitors of their choosing
  • To immediate access to any representative of the state and representative of the office of the state long term care ombudsman
  • To access to the resident’s individual physician 
  • To access to any representative of the agency responsible for individuals with a mental disorder
  • To immediate access to relatives of the resident
  • To see the nursing home’s written policies and procedures regarding visitation rights of residents 
  • To organize and participate in resident groups in the facility 
  • To have family meeting space provided (if the facility has such a space)
  • To a designated staff person approved by the resident or family who is responsible for providing assistance at group meetings 
  • To have their grievances and complaints acted on promptly (the nursing home must demonstrate their response and rationale for such a response) 
  • To participate in social, religious, and community activities
  • To refuse to perform services for the nursing home 
  • To manage his or her financial affairs 
  • To be informed of their rights and of all rules and regulations
  • To access personal and medical records 
  • To obtain a copy of their medical records
  • To know and be provided a way to submit a complaint with the state survey agency 
  • To reasonable access to a telephone and a place where calls can be made in privacy 
  • To communicate, including access to the internet, stationary, postage, pens/pencils, and ability to mail 
  • To send and receive mail 
  • To reasonable access to and privacy in their use of electronic communications
  • To examine the results of the most recent state survey 
  • To have the nursing home comply with the resident’s advanced directives
  • To be notified of any accidents causing injury and to any significant change in the resident’s medical or mental status
  • To privacy and confidentiality 
  • To a safe, clean, comfortable, and homelike environment 
  • To housekeeping and maintenance services necessary to maintain a sanitary, orderly, and comfortable interior
  • To voice grievances against the facility without reprisal
  • To be able to communicate with federal, state, and local officials including state surveyors without interference or discrimination 

What Should I Do if I Suspect Nursing Home Abuse?

When a loved one is in a nursing home, suspicions of abuse can evoke strong emotions. However, it’s crucial to approach the situation with rationality and a clear plan of action. By maintaining composure, gathering information, and seeking appropriate assistance, individuals can navigate the complex process of addressing elder abuse effectively. If you suspect abuse, these guidelines can help you approach the situation in an effective manner:

Try to Stay Rational

When you suspect abuse in a nursing home, try to keep a level head. It’s easy to get upset, but staying calm and thinking things through is important for everyone involved. Before jumping to conclusions, talk to the nursing home staff and management about your concerns. They might have explanations or information you’re not aware of. If their responses are unsatisfactory, consider taking more formal steps. 

Speak privately with your loved one to understand their perspective, but be aware that they might be hesitant to share details for various reasons. Taking notes and documenting anything concerning is helpful. If the issues persist, inform the nursing home management, and if necessary, involve authorities, like the police, local area on aging, state department of health, or seek legal advice. Being rational in your approach will ensure a more effective and focused response to suspected abuse or neglect.

Question Staff

When you suspect abuse or neglect in a nursing home, begin your investigation by questioning the staff and management. This involves calmly expressing your concerns and asking for clarification on any suspicious behavior or incidents you’ve observed. 

Keep in mind that what may seem like abuse or neglect to you could have a reasonable explanation, so give the staff an opportunity to address your concerns. Listen carefully to their responses and ask follow-up questions if needed. Approach this conversation with an open mind while also advocating for your loved one’s well-being. If the staff are unable or unwilling to provide satisfactory explanations, it may be necessary to escalate the issue further or seek outside assistance. 

Remember to document the conversation and any responses you receive for future reference. You may consider recording your conversations. Please note that some states require that all parties consent to being recorded. Often the best approach is to ask the staff and management during your meeting if you can record the conversation. If they say no, that should trigger a few red flags. 

Speak with Loved Ones

After questioning the nursing home staff, another important step is to speak directly with your loved one who resides in the facility. This conversation should ideally occur in a private setting where your loved one feels comfortable expressing themselves freely. However, if the nursing home management prohibits private conversations for any reason, it may raise concerns and prompt further action. When speaking with your loved one, approach the conversation with sensitivity and empathy. Reassure them that you are there to support and advocate for them. Encourage them to share any concerns or experiences they may have had in the nursing home. Be patient and understanding, as they may be hesitant to disclose information due to fear, embarrassment, or other reasons.

Listen attentively to what your loved one has to say, and take their concerns seriously. If they express any allegations of abuse or neglect, document their statements carefully, including dates, times, and specific details. This information can be valuable for further investigation or legal action if necessary. It’s essential to respect your loved one’s wishes and autonomy throughout the conversation. Avoid pressuring them to disclose information they are uncomfortable sharing. Instead, reassure them that their well-being is your top priority, and you are committed to addressing any concerns they may have.

If your loved one confirms your suspicions or provides additional insights into potential abuse or neglect, it strengthens your case for taking further action. However, even if they do not disclose any specific incidents, their feedback and observations can still be valuable in evaluating the overall quality of care provided by the nursing home.

Ultimately, speaking with your loved one allows you to gain firsthand insight into their experiences and perspectives, empowering you to advocate effectively on their behalf and take appropriate steps to address any issues of concern.

Document Things That Are Out of the Ordinary

Keeping written notes of anything that appears concerning during your visits is crucial. This could include details such as signs of neglect, unexplained injuries, unsanitary conditions, or instances of improper care. Recording the date, time, and specific details of each observation provides concrete evidence that can be used to address any issues effectively. In addition to written notes, taking photographs can provide visual documentation of any visible concerns. This might include photographs of your loved one’s living conditions, any injuries or physical signs of neglect, or unsafe environmental factors within the facility. Always obtain permission before taking photographs, especially if they involve other residents or staff members.

When speaking with nursing home staff about your observations or concerns, make sure to get their names and job positions. This information helps to establish accountability and facilitates follow-up if needed. Engage in respectful and constructive dialogue with staff members, expressing your concerns and seeking clarification on any issues you’ve identified. Furthermore, consider speaking with other coherent residents who may have information about incidents or concerns within the facility. Their perspectives and insights can provide valuable additional evidence to support your observations.

Report Suspected Abuse

Reporting suspected elder abuse or neglect is critical for ensuring the safety and well-being of vulnerable individuals in nursing homes. If you believe a nursing home resident is in imminent danger of harm or there is clear abuse, call the police immediately. In some cases, police intervention may be necessary to ensure the safety of nursing home residents. 

Each state has protective services for adults, and if you’re unsure who to contact, you can reach out to the National Center on Elder Abuse at 1-800-677-1116 for guidance. Additionally, every nursing home is required to publicly post the name and telephone number of the local Ombudsman, who is responsible for investigating neglect and abuse in long-term care facilities. If you can’t find this information, you can ask the nursing home administrator or contact your local law enforcement agency for assistance. Your prompt action can help protect seniors from harm and hold facilities accountable for providing safe and compassionate care.

Contact a Lawyer

If you suspect that a nursing home resident, including your loved one, is experiencing abuse or neglect, consulting a lawyer is an important step. In cases of abuse or neglect, the resident is entitled to protection under the law and may also be eligible for compensation. Depending on your relationship with the resident, you may also have legal rights to pursue compensation. While reporting abuse and neglect is crucial, it’s often necessary to take formal legal action to compel abusive facilities to change their practices. Legal action can have a significant impact on their financial interests and ability to continue operating, ultimately ensuring accountability and safeguarding residents’ rights.


If you suspect nursing home abuse or neglect, it’s essential to take prompt and decisive action to ensure the safety and well-being of your loved one. Approach the situation with rationality and composure, questioning nursing home staff, speaking with your loved one, and documenting any concerning observations. Report suspected abuse to the appropriate authorities, such as the police or state protective services, and consider contacting a lawyer to explore legal options. By advocating for your loved one’s rights and holding facilities accountable, you can help ensure that they receive the care and support they deserve in a safe and compassionate environment.

Disclaimer: This information is provided for informational purposes only. Nothing in this article should be construed as providing legal advice or the creation of an attorney client relationship. Laws are updated frequently and change from state to state. If you desire legal advice, you can contact Michael Hill Trial Law at www.protectseniors.com, send an email to info@protectseniors.com, or call (800) 659-2712 to begin an investigation or contact another attorney.