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What To Do If You Suspect Nursing Home Neglect

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Elderly residents of nursing facilities are among our most vulnerable citizens, and they are at an increased risk of injury or death due to substandard or harmful care. If you suspect a family member or friend is experiencing nursing home neglect, it’s essential to intervene and safeguard your loved one’s well-being. Here are steps you can take to address nursing home neglect. 

Initial Steps to Take

If you suspect nursing home neglect, it is imperative to document your observations meticulously. Comprehensive notes detailing the neglectful incidents’ dates, times, and descriptions create a vital record that can substantiate your concerns. Engage directly with the facility by voicing your apprehensions to the nursing home management or the resident’s primary care provider. The sooner you raise the issue, the quicker your loved one’s care team can address it. Furthermore, it is essential to remain observant and monitor the situation closely, ensuring that the nursing home takes appropriate corrective actions promptly.

Document Your Observations

Comprehensive documentation will help you detail your complaint and make a case to the relevant authorities. Record detailed descriptions of any potential neglect, including physical, emotional, or environmental concerns. Your records should also include:

  • Dates and Times: Note the specific date and time of each occurrence, as this is crucial in establishing patterns of neglect.
  • Photographic Evidence: Take photographs to support your descriptions of the neglectful conditions.
  • Witnesses: Document the names of any witnesses present during the incidents, as their testimonies can be invaluable.
  • Resident Statements: If feasible, include statements from the resident expressing their experience and concerns.

Review Care Protocols

Care protocols serve as a roadmap for care quality. They define the standard procedures for various aspects of a resident’s care, ensuring consistency and safety. With care protocols in hand, you can compare the expected level of care against the actual care that’s been provided. For example, if the care protocol says your loved one should get three meals a day, but they’re only getting one, you have a clear example of substandard care. 

Any deviation from these protocols may indicate neglect or abuse. You should meticulously review any changes or omissions in care routines, medication administration, or other areas of concern. This scrutiny may uncover patterns or lapses in care that warrant further investigation.

A comprehensive review of protocols often requires persistence. Residents and their advocates have the legal right to access complete information regarding care plans and to expect the nursing home staff to adhere to those standards.

Care protocols that are continuously scrutinized and updated to reflect current healthcare standards are critical to safeguarding resident well-being. Since care standards are dynamic and evolve over time, it’s essential that practices within the facility remain in accordance with the most recent guidelines and regulations.

Discuss Your Concerns with Staff

At the first sign of neglect or abuse, it’s important to speak with the nursing home staff as soon as possible.  These early conversations can lead to swift action and potentially avert further neglect. Approach the discussion with specific observations and concerns. This will promote a clear understanding and targeted responses from the facility staff. Remain respectful but firm to convey the seriousness of your concerns, and be ready to provide details such as times, dates, and the nature of your complaint. 

If discussing your concerns with the nurse or Certified Nursing Assistant doesn’t resolve the problem, you can escalate your complaint up the chain of command. This can include asking to speak with the following:

  • The supervisor
  • The social worker
  • The Director of Nursing
  • Your loved one’s doctor


Open communication can facilitate cooperative problem-solving strategies but remain observant and prepared to take further action if the situation does not improve satisfactorily.

File a Formal Complaint

If internal communication with staff members fails to solve your and your loved one’s problem, the next step is filing a formal complaint. A formal complaint becomes necessary when initial dialogue fails to rectify the situation. This legal mechanism officially records and addresses grievances. Each nursing home must have a formal procedure for filing complaints and grievances. Follow their instructions and include your complete documentation and supporting materials, such as photographs and witness statements.

Accuracy is paramount when submitting formal grievances. Also, maintain copies of all filed complaints and correspondence. These documents will prove valuable should the case advance to legal proceedings or require regulatory review. Be aware that filing a complaint triggers a formal review, which can be emotionally draining but is crucial for safeguarding residents’ welfare.

Notify Relevant Agencies

In suspected nursing home neglect cases, alerting the appropriate authorities is imperative.

There are several state-run resources you can contact outside of the nursing home. Depending on your state, these can include:

  • State Health Department: Your state’s health department is in charge of investigating complaints in care facilities. 
  • State Ombudsman Program: Ombudsmen advocate for nursing home residents and can help investigate complaints and mediate concerns. 
  • Adult Protective Services: This agency addresses the abuse, neglect, and exploitation of elders.
  • Medicaid Fraud Control Unit: Medicare and Medicaid can intervene if the facility receives federal funding. 


Provide these agencies with the documentation you gave the nursing home and a copy of your formal complaint. Quickly and adequately communicating your concerns can help move necessary investigations along.

Legal and Advocacy Resources

In the world of elder care, having a legal expert who specializes in elder law is crucial. These attorneys are skilled at assessing situations and guiding you through the complexities of addressing nursing home neglect. Organizations like the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) and the National Long-Term Care Ombudsman Resource Center can be beneficial. They provide support and information, ensuring that residents’ rights are upheld. If you need further legal help, they can also point you toward advocacy and additional resources. When searching for legal assistance, using terms like “elder law attorney” or “senior justice” can help you find professionals dedicated to protecting older individuals’ rights.