Federal Laws Protecting the Elderly
Both federal and state laws regulate elder abuse and neglect. In response to policymakers’ concern regarding a lack of community and social services for older individuals, Congress passed The Older Americans Act (OAA) of 1965. The Act established authority for grants to States for research and development projects, community planning and social services and personnel training in the field of aging. Currently, the OAA is a primary vehicle for the efficient delivery of nutritious meals to older individuals. The passage of the act was instrumental in encouraging state laws to address the needs and concerns of the elderly. In addition, the law also established the Administration on Aging (AoA) both to administer the grant programs and to serve as the Federal regulatory system which primarily focuses on matters concerning older individuals.
Nursing home law in particular is governed by the 1987 Nursing Home Reform Act (NHRA). The NHRA is a set of laws that establish the respective standards of care for assisted living facilities and nursing homes. The main purpose of the act is to ensure quality care in nursing homes by protecting elders from neglect, abuse and mistreatment. The NHRA establishes the following rights for nursing home residents:
- The right to freedom from abuse, mistreatment and neglect;
- The right to privacy;
- The right to freedom from physical and chemical restraints;
- The right to communicate freely;
- The right to accommodation of medical, physical, psychological and social needs;
- The right to be treated with dignity;
- The right to participate in resident and family groups;
- The right to voice grievances without discrimination or reprisal; and
- The right to participate in the review of one’s care plan, and to be fully informed in advance about any changes in care, treatment, or change in status in the facility.
The NHRA further requires that certain services must be provided to residents in nursing homes, including:
- Access to nursing services;
- Access to social services;
- Access to pharmaceutical services;
- Access to rehabilitation service;
- Periodic assessment of all residents;
- Individual care plans for each resident;
- Adequate nutritional and dietary services; and
- In facilities with more than 120 beds, access to a full-time social worker.
Failing to meet any of the above requirements can result in loss of government funding for these facilities.