We are fortunate in New Jersey. Our state has continued maintenance of one of the most comprehensive and protective nursing home regulatory schemes in the country. Intimately connected with these laws are dedicated teams of investigators for the state, prepared to protect the rights of our elderly in the long-term care setting. Additionally included are standards which have become known as the “Nursing Home Bill of Rights.” It might surprise the reader to know that many basic liberties we enjoy outside of the nursing home context needed to be codified because of persistent abuses in the institutional setting. These include the right not to be subjected to physical restraints, the right not to have drugs and other medications employed for purposes of punishment, the right to visitation and access to an attorney. Other portions of this law compel nursing homes to ensure the dignity of residents, compliance with all applicable state and federal statutes, rules and regulations and access to all of one’s own medical records.

Sadly, while most nursing homes in New Jersey provide quality and compassionate care, a number of others have violated these very simple tenets. Indeed, many of our most frail citizens will die of starvation in nursing homes, while paying $7,000 or more a month for the privilege. Others are so neglected that they develop horrific bed sores on their body – all the way down to exposed bone. Still others, who are both frail and weak on their feet, are either dropped or unsupervised, leading to deadly fractured hips and premature death.

New Jersey’s law protects not only the rights of residents, but helps empower them and their families to ensure protection of their loved ones and also to motivate the Nursing Home Industry to make certain that tragic mishaps do not reoccur.

When one suspects neglect, mistreatment or even abuse, it is imperative to contact the proper authorities. If there is a case involving abuse call immediately, as this might constitute a crime against the institutionalized elderly. If there is a more subtle issue concerning treatment of a loved one, family members should immediately contact New Jersey’s Ombudsman office at 1-877-582-6995. The Ombudsman’s office will assign an investigator to review the matter. Unfortunately, the sheer volume of complaints in New Jersey seem to exceed the ability of the Ombudsman’s office to respond immediately. However, the caring representatives of that office certainly will do their best to address the concerns of a family member.

In addition to these steps, family members worried that a loved one has suffered either an injury or abuse of rights have the right to contact an attorney to protect the their loved one – or in the event of tragedy, their estate.

It is clear that the vast majority of nursing homes and nursing home employees provide excellent care to New Jersey’s most vulnerable senior citizens. With the utmost attention and vigilance, families can work together to ensure that all senior residents in the long-term care setting can receive the care they deserve and enjoy protection of all their rights.

David Cohen is a Shareholder in the Personal Injury group at Stark & Stark, 993 Lenox Drive, Lawrenceville, NJ 08648. 609-896-9060. www.stark-stark.com

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