A resident, conservator, friend, family member, or other advocate who finds the care or services at a nursing home lacking, negligent, or abusive should take action to right the wrong. There are a number of possible solutions, but finding the right help often requires some patience and perseverance.
Contact the Facility Management
Before turning to outside sources for help, try to resolve minor complaints directly at the facility. Either a separate written policy or portions of the admission agreement signed earlier should explain how to file a complaint or grievance there. Put complaints in writing to the facility’s executive director and ask for a written response within a limited time, allowing a fair chance to address the concerns.
Consult the Ombudsman
In keeping with the law, the California Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program assigns an ombudsman — a trained advocate not associated with the ownership or management of the facility — to investigate problems and resolve complaints made by, or on behalf of, residents who live there.
Complaints can be filed directly with the local ombudsman’s office or by calling the statewide crisis line at 800.231.4024, which is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Ombudsman services are free and confidential and may include:
- Dealing with concerns about quality of care
- Answering questions about proper care
- Investigating suspected physical, mental, or emotional abuse of residents
- Attending meetings to discuss a resident’s care plan or concerns about treatment
Request a Confidential Meeting
If the concern is specifically about the adequacy of care — lack of physical therapy, possible improper medication, or mishandling or incontinence, for example — then request that the matter be discussed at a care plan meeting with nursing and administrative staff. Make sure that the doctors or other medical professionals responsible for the resident’s care also attend in person — or are at least patched in by phone or computer. Other disputes — about possible staff mistreatment, inadequate activities, a billing matter, or other concern may also be addressed at a meeting with nursing home management and all those involved. It is usually best if the resident can attend all such meetings — supported by the ombudsman, who is an objective advocate for the resident, or some other friend or supporter with the knowledge and temperament to be a good problem solver. Be sure to take good notes — and to end the meeting or a series of meetings with a tangible, written action plan to right the wrong. Check in periodically to make sure the proposed solutions are working.
Attend or Arrange a Resident or Family Council Meeting
Residents and concerned family members have the right to form councils to address concerns about care and housing at the nursing home, to air their views and help come up with viable alternatives. Management must provide a private meeting space and designate at least one employee to act as a liaison with the group. Such gatherings often prove the adage about strength in numbers. If several different families or concerned caregivers voice the same complaint, it becomes more difficult for management to ignore.
Reach Out to an Advocacy Organization
Several organizations offer expert and impartial assessments of whether a particular complaint needs action, along with guidance on how to get it, including:
- California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR), a nonprofit consumer advocacy group, at 800.474.1116
- The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care at 202.332.2275
- The Senior Legal Hotline at 800.222.1753
Contact State Regulatory Agencies
For persistent problems with quality of care, violations of residents’ rights, staffing inadequacies, and other serious problems, contact the state agency that regulates nursing facilities, the local Licensing and Certification District Office or call 916.552.8700 or 800.236.9747. It will investigate, possibly issue citations and fines, and make a report of the investigation.
If you suspect someone in the facility has been abusive, pursue one of these avenues:
- Report it to the local office of the California Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program.
- Call the Office of the Attorney General, Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse at 800.722.0432.
- Consult an attorney experienced in elder abuse law for help.
For practical advice on dealing with specific issues, from discrimination against Medi-Cal recipients to threatened evictions, see the National Senior Citizens Law Center’s publication “20 Common Nursing Home Problems — and How to Resolve Them.”