As part of our ongoing series on the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act, the Chicago personal injury attorneys of Passen & Powell today look at the living conditions which the Act requires covered facilities to maintain. These requirements cover a variety of topics, but all share a common goal: to ensure that these most vulnerable of our state’s citizens have the standard of living they deserve.
Some of the Act’s requirements are no more than simple common sense. For example, a resident of a long-term-care facility does not lose any of her constitutional rights simply by virtue of her residence. The Act does not, for instance, allow a facility to prevent its residents from practicing the religion of their choice. Neither can facilities compel residents to practice a particular faith, nor require them to attend worship services. And, if a resident requests it, the facility must arrange for her to attend worship services of her choice. Likewise, residents maintain the right to vote, freedom of speech, and their other rights. Although the nursing home injury attorneys of Passen & Powell would like to believe that these rights are obvious, they are, sadly, all too often ignored.
Just as a long-term-care facility cannot cut residents off from their faith, they likewise cannot cut them off from their loved ones. This means not only that facilities must comply with the Act’s requirements regarding visitation, but must also provide residents with convenient access to the mail and to a telephone.
Nor can the facility monitor residents’ important communications. Specifically, facilities are not permitted to inspect ingoing or outgoing mail between residents and certain specified officials – lawyers, the Department of Public Health, judges, state’s attorneys, the Attorney General, the Governor, or members of the General Assembly. Thus, a facility would not be permitted to open and read correspondence addressed to the attorneys of Passen & Powell.
As to visitation, the Act is quite explicit: Daily visiting must be permitted between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. And, just as the Act protects against isolation, it also ensures residents’ privacy. Visitors cannot enter a resident’s private living area without the resident’s permission, and must leave if asked to do so. Even facility staff must knock before entering a resident’s room (except in emergencies). And residents cannot be forced to share a room with a member of the opposite sex, nor housed in a bedroom that must be passed through in order to enter another area of the facility. (Likewise, married couples must be permitted to room together unless there is no room at the facility at the time.)
Even the residents’ clothing choices are protected by the Act. Long-term-care facilities must allow residents to have – and wear – their own clothing, if they wish. If, however, the facility provides the clothing, they are required to provide properly-fitting clothes. And the facility must provide safe, convenient, and adequate storage for other personal effects, and provide residents with the daily opportunity to access those effects.
It is often these smaller rights which facilities choose to ignore. But these little things are crucial to the happiness and mental health of elders in long-term care, and are thus equally important – and equally a basis for facility liability under the Act. Virtually all these rules have an exception: they may be violated at the instruction of the resident’s physician. Still, it will be an unusual circumstance in which a doctor believes that the violation of these rules is medically necessary, and orders by unscrupulous doctors are guarded against by the Act’s general provision prohibiting abuse or neglect.
Like the care of residents, the Act provides for the conditions of discharge from that care. First and foremost, long-term-care facilities are required to discharge or transfer a resident at the resident’s request (or the request of his guardian). And the facility can only discharge a resident involuntarily for three specific reasons: nonpayment, for the safety of the resident or others, and for medical reasons. But the nonpayment rationale is extremely limited: a resident of a facility that accepts Medicaid cannot discharge for nonpayment a patient that has applied for Medicaid assistance.
These comprehensive and specific rules are designed to ensure that long-term-care facilities, to whom we entrust our dependent and vulnerable loved ones, cannot turn trust to abuse – in areas from the profound to the day-to-day. Although a coming column in this series will detail the options available, a knowledgeable attorney can guide you through the process of choosing an option to enforce your resident’s rights, and seeking compensation for any harm that has been done.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago nursing home injury lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.