Understanding Patient Rights in Long Term Care

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Many patient rights in long-term care facilities are guaranteed by federal and state governments. Knowing your rights, or the rights of your loved ones, can help make sure that patient rights for privacy, medication and treatment are observed.

Patient Rights in Long-Term Care

When you or a loved one needs long-term care, it is important that you or other family members learn about the patients' rights that residents in care facilities are entitled to. While certain rights are guaranteed at the state and federal levels, many long-term care facilities also provide a Patient's Bill of Rights for their specific facility.

Depending on the area of the country where you are located, long-term care facilities typically include:

  • Nursing homes
  • Assisted living facilities
  • Adult family homes
  • Boarding homes
  • Veterans homes operated by state agencies

Patients' rights are in effect for the entire time that one stays in a long-term care facility, from admission through to discharge, regardless of the type of long-term care facility where one stays. A patient's rights can be exercised by:

  • The patient alone
  • The patient with the help of a long-term care ombudsman
  • A guardian that is legally appointed
  • A representative of the patient

Patient Rights Guaranteed by the Federal Government

The federal government of the United States guarantees certain rights to each resident living in a long-term care facility. All patient rights are in addition to the rights the individual has as a United States citizen. There are certain patient rights that vary slightly depending on the type of long-term care facility.

Examples of patients' rights guaranteed by the federal government to each individual include the right to:

  • Keep their medical records private
  • Obtain a copy of their medical records
  • Informed consent regarding medical treatment and medications
  • Refuse treatments or medications
  • Be treated with respect and dignity
  • Privacy
  • Manage their own money or designate a trusted person to manage it
  • Be informed in writing of the services and fees if the long-term care is provided in a nursing home

Patients' Rights Guaranteed by Individual State Governments

Patients' rights guaranteed by state governments are in addition to those mandated by the federal government. Together they provide patients in long-term care facilities a safe place to live that ensures a quality of life that is dignified and free from neglect and abuse. Similar to the patients' rights mandated by federal law, the rights mandated at the state level vary slightly depending on the type of long-term care facility and the specific state.

Most states provide printed booklets or online copies of patients' rights. This information is generally available from the Office of the Aging, or the Department of Health, in each state. The following are several examples of patients' rights in specific types of long-term care facilities in individual states:

  • New York State nursing homes from the New York Department of Health
  • Montana from the Montana Department of Health and Human Services
  • Florida from the Florida long-term care ombudsman program
  • New Hampshire general nursing home residents' bill of rights


In 1987 the federal government established, effective in all states, the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, generally known as LTCOP. Under this program, each long-term care facility must provide residents and their families with the services of an ombudsman. Although ombudsmen undergo training programs to become certified, the certification requirements differ from state to state.The job of the ombudsman is to help residents and their families understand the patient's rights on both the state and federal levels. Ombudsmen also assist patients and their families with exercising their patients' rights. The following are several additional duties of ombudsmen:

  • Help resolve complaints and problems that arise
  • Advocate for improving patient care
  • Provide education to families and the general public concerning long-term care issues and concerns
  • Investigate any allegations of verbal, physical or emotional abuse or neglect

Being aware of existing patient rights in long-term care facilities is an important aspect of making sure your stay, or that of a loved one, is positive and successful.

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Understanding Patient Rights in Long Term Care