It has become common in American society that once elders reach a certain age or are unable to take care of themselves, they are often sent to a retirement home. But once the pandemic struck, many nursing homes were exposed to COVID-19 at extreme levels with no way of limiting its effect. 

Many retirement homes were subjected to high measures of quarantine, with family members not able to visit or have contact with loved ones for weeks to months at a time. This brought into question; what rights do residents have in retirement homes? Were those rights violated during the quarantine?

“Every individual has rights that must be protected and honored.” Bianca Castro said.” Residents have the right to food, assistance, daily hygiene help, and overall care promised by the nursing home reform act.”

Castro is the Long-Term Care Ombudsman at the California Department of Aging. She was also the advocacy director for AARP of California from 2013 to 2021.

Castro notes that last year alone, she heard more than 40,000 complaints from elderly residents and their families about the treatment they received from retirement home workers. She says many calls were about unauthorized discharges, lack of medical support, and communication issues between workers and families, which led to residents’ families being unable to visit or missing visiting hours and days. 

Castro noted that the easiest way for a solution to be found is for the resident to know what the outcome of a solution will look like.  She added that they can only intervene when the residents permit them to step in. 

Hagar Dickman, another advocacy worker, agreed that resident’s rights and well-being need to be a priority and highlighted that all residents should know of the Nursing Home Reform Act (NHRA), which sets the federal quality standards for nursing homes. Nursing homes are obligated to meet these standards if they receive Medicare or Medicaid. The purpose of this act is to ensure that seniors in nursing homes receive high-quality care by protecting them from physical, emotional, and social abuse and neglect.

Dickman joined the Justice in Aging’s Health Care team in 2022 and is based in the Oakland office. Her work aims to achieve equity in California’s In-Home Support and Home and Community Based Services for low-income older adults. 

“We always consider how effective these rights are and how we can improve them as it is well documented of the racial disparities and the quality of care in nursing homes for Black Americans.  Black Americans are three times more likely to reside at poor-performing nursing homes than White Americans,” Dickman said.

“The severe consequences of these disparities were highlighted during the pandemic as residents of color were killed at a higher rate. As an advocate, we have a robust outlook on nursing homes practicing the appropriate caregiving that is promised to residents.” Dickman added.

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