By Former Senator Richard Moore, Chair DignityMA Legislative Workgroup
While the abuse of residents with intellectual disabilities in state institutions cries out for reform, residents of nursing homes appear to have even fewer rights. Despite improvements brought about by the federal 1987 Nursing Home Reform Act and state laws and regulations, residents of nursing homes in Massachusetts have fewer rights and protections than clients of the Department of Mental Health (DMH) and Department of Developmental al Services (DDS). Even when the generic theme of some rights is comparable, the regulations lack the specificity provided in the other agencies. The result is that Massachusetts residents of nursing homes have less dignity, independence, choice, and protection than older adults or people with disabilities who are DMH and DDS clients.
Nursing Home residents need more rights, more clarity of existing rights, and deserve the same rights as DMH and DDS clients. If a DMH or DDS client needs the services of a skilled nursing facility, they would have fewer rights under Department of Public Health (DPH) regulations than as clients of the other agencies. The inequality is unfair and a violation of basic human rights.
The issue of inequality became apparent when reviewing the rights of nursing home residents and the lack of effective relief through litigation resulting from state grants of immunity under COVID emergency statutes and nursing homes insistence on residents giving up the right to sue and forced to pursue arbitration of complaints.
Regulations equalizing rights of nursing home residents with other state agencies plus an effective enforcement process and prohibiting mandatory arbitration agreements would strengthen the rights of nursing home residents and improve their dignity, independence, choice, and safety.
Improvements in care of nursing home residents will reduce hospitalization due to substandard care or abuse and will substantially improve quality of care and life. The Department of Public Health and the Attorney General should adopt regulations to include or expand rights already available to clients of DMH and DDS and develop an effective enforcement process comparable to that used in the other state agencies.
The goal for Massachusetts should be that of equalizing rights of older adults and people with disabilities regardless of their residence or the agency responsible for their care. This would be a great way to honor their dignity and celebrate RESIDENT RIGHTS’ MONTH!