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Keeping your loved one safe in a nursing home

March 11, 2010

Help your loved one find a place where he'll be happy and you'll feel secure about his safety. Then visit often and make sure he is being treated well.

Help your loved one find a place where he'll be happy and you'll feel secure about his safety. Then visit often and make sure he is being treated well.

By Diane Griffith, Staff Writer, myOptumHealth

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Your loved one is moving into a nursing home or assisted living facility. You're worried. Will she be safe, happy and treated with respect and kindness? Will she get all the medical attention she needs?

Although there are countless pleasant, clean nursing homes with caring, supportive staff, there are times when abuse or neglect can occur. This abuse may come at the hands of visitors, staff or other residents, and may be physical, sexual or emotional. A resident may also be isolated or taken advantage of financially. Theft can be a problem in long-term care facilities, too.

So how can you help avoid these problems? Be a smart consumer from the start. Help your loved one find a place where he'll be happy and you'll feel secure about his safety. Then visit often and make sure he is being treated well.

Despite your best efforts, though, problems can still arise. Here's how to handle a few of the issues you may encounter in long-term care facilities.

Preventing theft

A common problem in nursing homes is theft - by employees or other residents. Items that can be easily removed from rooms are the most likely to be stolen. These include jewelry, clothing and cash. Many states have laws forbidding nursing home bedroom doors to be locked. This leaves residents vulnerable to theft when they leave for a meal or a scheduled activity.

You can help protect your loved one from theft by having her:

  • Place her money in a wallet that she can attach to her clothing and carry with her during the day
  • Hide any valuables she keeps in her room
  • Report missing items (regardless of value) immediately
  • Label all personal items with permanent ink

Watch for any signs of neglect

In the worst scenarios, long-term care residents may be denied regular baths, help with grooming or assistance with eating, drinking or walking. They may also be left in soiled sheets or disposable briefs for long periods of time. Their requests for help may go ignored and they may be left sitting alone in hallways for hours instead of being drawn into conversation or activities.

How can you make sure this doesn't happen to your loved one? When you visit your family member, pay close attention to his health, hygiene and state of mind. Keep the following in mind:

  • If your loved one wants to see you, the facility is required by law to let you visit.
  • Stop in at various times unannounced - day and night, weekdays and weekends. Observe what kind of care he is receiving.
  • Be familiar with the staff and treat them with respect.
  • Report any concerns to staff members right away. If this does not work, put it in writing. Send a letter to the staff supervisor and request a meeting.

Get involved

The best way to take part in your loved one's care and to ensure his safety is to join or organize a family council at the facility. This group can take its concerns to facility staff. For instance, the family council may come up with a plan to prevent theft or to improve the quality of care at the nursing home. The facility staff must review and respond to the council's requests.

Nursing homes that receive Medicaid or Medicare funding are subject to state surveys every 12 to 15 months. Signs are posted in the facility when the surveys are taking place. This is the perfect time for families to express any concerns to the survey team.

Locate your ombudsman

If you do not get results when reporting problems to the long-term care staff, find an ombudsman. Contact the National Long-Term Care Ombudsman Resource Center at to find your local representative.

View the original Keeping your loved one safe in an assisted living facility or nursing home on 

  • Alzheimer's Association. Choosing a nursing home: what to look for, what to ask. Accessed: 11/06/2009
  • Elder Care Rights Alliance. Theft in nursing homes: awareness and prevention. Accessed: 11/06/2009
  • Wood S, Stephens M. Vulnerability to elder abuse and neglect in assisted living facilities. The Gerontologist. 2003:43:753-757.
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Nursing homes. Accessed: 11/05/2009
  • American Society on Aging. Report examines heartbreak of theft in nursing homes. Accessed: 11/05/2009
  • Senior and Disabled Services. Reporting Neglect/Abuse. Accessed: 11/05/2009
  • Illinois Department of Public Health. How to select a nursing home. Accessed: 11/06/2009
The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care. Family member fact sheets. Accessed: 11/05/2009