5 Keys to Self-Advocacy in Nursing Homes

Having someone who can advocate on your behalf is a great asset. However, not everyone is lucky enough to have family close, or friends able to be by their side at a moment’s notice. That’s why it is vitally important to be an advocate for yourself for as long as possible. Taking some key steps in self-advocacy is a great start. The California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR) have compiled a list of action items that will help you advocate for yourself. Here are 5 keys to self-advocacy in nursing homes to help you create a safe living environment.

Know Your Rights

This is a huge piece of self-advocacy. We’ve talked extensively about resident rights before, covering some of the primary rights you need to know. But it doesn’t hurt to once again address this aspect of nursing home life and encourage everyone—residents and their families—to understand what rights nursing home residents have.

Additionally, California Health and Safety Codes require that these rights be available to residents and visitors, and the facility must explain your rights to you when you are admitted to a nursing home. If neither of these things have been done, get in touch with the administrators of the facility and ask them to be more transparent with the rights of all residents.

(See California Health & Safety Code, Section 1569.267; California Code of Regulations, Title 22, Section 87468(c)(2).)

Keep Track of Incidents

Hopefully, there will be no incidents to report. However, starting a notebook in which you record all adverse incidents can help track patterns, and be vital evidence should poor treatment or living conditions worsen. Simply write the facts, with dates, and keep a log of anything that should not have happened. If needed, ask a friend or family member to help you keep this log.

Additionally, save relevant correspondence. Save emails, take notes of phone conversations and in-person care meetings. Ask for copies of documents related to your care plan and anything else the facility has promised to do for you. While these things may never be used, in the event they are needed, they will help you remember the course of events and may be incredibly useful to your lawyers.

Speak Up

It can be incredibly hard to advocate for yourself. You want to trust professionals, but if your care is not going the way you want, or if decisions are being made for you, you must speak up! Make your desires, needs, and expectations clear, asking yourself:

  • What do you really want?
  • What can you live with?
  • What is unacceptable?

As you make your expectations clear, offer solutions and ways to achieve the desired outcome. This will position you as a participant in your care plan and make it clear that you aren’t just complaining about your current living situation. Work with personnel as much as possible, especially since they may be short staffed. 

Be Proactive

Do not let small things fester into bigger problems. Plan care meetings, or ask to speak to staff directly. Identify the best person to talk to about a specific matter and address the concern with them in a friendly manner. If needed, build a support group–family, friends, religious leaders, social workers, attorneys, etc.—who can help you formulate solutions and act as allies.

Put agreements in writing, set dates for issue resolution, and listen and cooperate with everyone trying to solve the issue. And try to keep meetings on task, addressing single issues or groups of related issues in one meeting. Remember that the facility is taking care of multiple residents, so be reasonable with requests, and know your rights, facility policy, etc. so there are no misunderstandings.

File a Formal Complaint

Hopefully, the majority of issues can be resolved internally and will not need further intervention. But if you feel you must file a formal complaint, do not be afraid to do so. The best place to go for help filing a complaint is your Ombudsman. An Ombudsman will “assist residents in long-term care facilities with issues related to day-to-day care, health, safety, and personal preferences.” This makes them the perfect ally to have. They will help you through the process and be a source of support. 

If the problem requires, the Ombudsman may also be able to advise whether or not you should contact a lawyer.

“If you have trouble exercising your rights contact the Long Term Care Ombudsman Program in your county for assistance (https://www.aging.ca.gov/Programs/LTCOP/Contacts/). The Ombudsman is your ‘on the scene advocate,’ and can help you resolve concerns about your care and rights.”

California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR)

If you or a loved one has been the victim of elder abuse or neglect, call Gharibian Law (877-460-1187) today for a FREE consultation and the representation.