When an elderly loved one requires daily assistance beyond what you are able to provide, you must make a difficult decision about who to entrust with your loved one’s care.

Whether you select an assisted living, memory care or continuing care retirement community for your loved one, you expect the facility and its staff to provide the best possible care for their physical, mental and emotional well-being. Moreover, state and federal laws require them to do so.

However, the spread of disease in these facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic is a prime example of how your elderly loved one is still at risk for abuse, injury, illness and even death when these facilities aren’t meeting requirements.

Standard of care requirements for nursing homes

A federal law added to the Social Security Act in 1987 set standards for senior care facilities that receive Medicaid or Medicare payments, which covers about 80% of all facilities. The Nursing Home Reform Law requires that facilities have sufficient staff to adequately supervise residents, keep accurate and complete medical records for residents, and submit to unannounced inspections.

For residents, the law says facilities must assess the particular needs of each resident and create a comprehensive care plan that covers the resident’s hygiene, medication, and diet and nutrition. They should promote their residents’ quality of life as well as maintain their dignity and respect.

Residents also have certain rights under the law, including to be free of abuse, mistreatment and neglect.

Common law principles also require senior-living facilities to exercise reasonable care in delivering the housing and services they provide to residents.

Facilities in California must meet additional standards

California has requirements beyond those federally required, regulating the ratio of nurses on shift to resident beds and mandating certain procedures for admitting new residents. California also requires nursing homes to have an organized infection control program to prevent diseases from developing and spreading. Facilities must provide these policies if requested by a resident or their representative.

Failing to meet federal and state requirements, or basic common law principles of ordinary care, can mean that a resident is abused, neglected, injured or incorrectly medicated or contracts an illness, leading to their death. Anyone who suspects a loved one’s death in a nursing home or other residential care facility was due to the facility’s inability to meet required standards should speak with an attorney to hold the facility accountable.