Once a resident is settled in a nursing home- being told to leave can be very traumatic. Nursing homes are required to follow certain procedures before discharging a resident- but family members often accept the discharge without questioning it. Residents can fight back and challenge an unlawful discharge.
According to federal law- a nursing home can discharge a resident only for the following reasons:
- The resident’s health has improved
- The resident’s needs cannot be met by the facility
- The health and safety of other residents is endangered
- The resident has not paid after receiving notice
- The facility stops operating
Unfortunately- sometimes nursing homes want to get rid of a resident for another reason–perhaps the resident is difficult- the resident’s family is difficult- or the resident is a Medicaid recipient. In such cases- the nursing home may not follow the proper procedure or it may attempt to “dump” the resident by transferring the resident to a hospital and then refusing to let the him or her back in.
If the nursing home transfers a resident to a hospital- the law in some states- but not in Virginia- may require that the nursing home hold the resident’s bed for a certain number of days (usually about a week). Before transferring a resident- the facility must inform the resident about its bed-hold policy. If the resident pays privately- he or she may have to pay to hold the bed- but if the resident receives Medicaid- Medicaid will pay for the bed hold. In addition- if the resident is a Medicaid recipient the nursing home has to readmit the resident to the first available bed if the bed-hold period has passed. In Virginia- a resident of a nursing home who is discharged to a hospital may pay the nursing home to hold the bed- at the nursing home’s private pay rate- but otherwise is not guaranteed a bed when they are ready for discharge from the hospital.
In addition- a nursing home cannot discharge a resident without proper notice and planning. In general- the nursing home must provide written notice 30 days before discharge- though shorter notice is allowed in emergency situations. Even if a patient is sent to a hospital- the nursing home may still have to do proper discharge planning if it plans on not readmitting the resident. A discharge plan must ensure the resident has a safe place to go- preferably near family- and outline the care the resident will receive after discharge.
If the nursing home refuses to readmit a patient or insists on discharging a resident- residents can appeal or file a complaint with the state long-term care ombudsman. The resident should appeal as soon as possible after receiving a discharge notice or after being refused readmittance to the nursing home. You can also require the resident’s doctor to sign off on the discharge. Contact your attorney to find out the best steps to take.
For more on protecting the rights of nursing home residents- see the guide 20 Common Nursing Home Problems–and How to Resolve Them by Justice in Aging.