How to Handle Nursing Home Complaints and Problems

Mike Olmos by Mike Olmos | Licensed since 2010
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This article was updated on: 09/09/2018

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Whether you’re a caregiver or the one who needs care, you might have concerns about quality of care in a nursing home. You might be looking for a way to file a complaint – for example, if:

  • You feel that care isn’t as good as it should be.
  • You or your loved one has a bad experience related to health or safety
  • You have already told the nursing home about your concerns, but you feel they’re not being taken care of.

Once your parent or loved one moves into a nursing home, your caregiver role changes, especially if you’ve been the primary caregiver and companion. Instead of overseeing day-to-day care, you may become an advocate and an ambassador between your loved one and the staff, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance (FGA). You might need to listen to complaints, try to solve nursing home problems, and look for proactive ways to keep your family member in good spirits and health.

Unfortunately, even in the best of situations, your parent will face some adjustments, the FGA notes – possibly not all easy ones. You’ll need to distinguish between routine grumbling, situations you can easily fix, and true nursing home problems you should bring to the attention of someone in authority. Here are some suggestions when your loved one’s not happy.

What is the real problem behind the nursing home complaint?

Sometimes, when your loved one is complaining, you might need to figure out the underlying issue. For example, if Mom complains that everyone ignores her or there’s no one to talk to, she may be saying she’s lonely and bored. You might want to introduce your loved one to other friendly residents or staff. Encourage her to participate in activities, instead of spending all her time in her room.

On the other hand, if your loved one complains about the care she has received, talk to him or her to find out more details so that you’ll understand the situation and be prepared to report it.

Is the issue something you can resolve on your own?

Some nursing home problems are easily solved. If Dad complains that he hates the food, you might try to visit at mealtime and see what they’re serving. You can also ask the staff about menu choices, and make sure they’re following any specific dietary restrictions that your loved one’s doctor ordered.

However, again, you may want to watch for any signs that your loved one’s care is not as good as it should be.

According to the United States Agency on Aging, some states have long-term care ombudsmen available. These people may listen to your complaint and help resolve the problem.

How can I file a nursing home complaint?

If you suspect – or your loved one complains about – situations such as these, you should report it:

  • Abuse or other mistreatment
  • Inadequate care
  • Unsanitary or unsafe conditions
  • Understaffing
  • Neglect
  • Food-related problems

If the nursing home accepts Medicare assignment, it must meet certain standards by law. According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, you can contact your State Survey Agency for details about how to file a complaint. For a list of state contacts or to download a Nursing Home Complaint Template Form, see Medicare.gov. You may want to contact your state survey agency or long-term care ombudsman even if the nursing home doesn’t accept Medicare assignment to find out if there’s anything that can be done.

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