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Family and Resident Councils at Nursing Homes

Jan. 14, 2020

People who live in nursing homes have the right to create and participate in resident groups. These groups usually consist of family councils and resident councils. The organizations can discuss whatever they choose, including things like problems at the facility and the quality of care.

The Need for Family and Resident Councils

If you feel alone and powerless when dealing with situations at a nursing home, a family or resident council can give you a united voice with other residents and their loved ones. You can discuss problems and find out how widespread the situation is. The council can communicate concerns to the administrators of the nursing home. For significant issues or if the facility does not make improvements, you can take your complaints to the long-term care ombudsman.

Every state has a long-term care ombudsman. When a resident or family council reaches out to the ombudsman, the impact can be more powerful than if a lone individual contacts the office.

A well-run facility will welcome a family or resident council and work with them to make improvements that benefit the residents and the staff. Family members have a safe place to constructively vent their anger about problems instead of filing a formal complaint at the first sign of concern. The facility can obtain honest feedback, so it can make continuous improvements.

The Rights of Family and Resident Council in Nursing Homes

Under federal law, staff members can only attend a council meeting by invitation. Federal law also guarantees that family members of a resident can meet with the families of other residents in the nursing home. The facility must designate a staff member to respond to a written request that comes out of the family meetings.

The facility must provide private space for the family group to meet. If family members fear their loved ones who live in the nursing home might receive retaliation because the family member participates in the council, the meetings can take place off-site at a mutually-agreeable location.

The family council may write up grievances and recommendations on how to resolve the problems. The facility must listen to the council and take appropriate action in response to the grievances and recommendations of the council. The council can recommend changes in the facility’s policies and operational decisions. If the family council is not satisfied with the nursing home’s response, the council can contact the state’s ombudsman for long-term care. Some of the rights only apply to facilities that have Medicare or Medicaid certification. It does not matter whether the individual resident or any current resident receives Medicare or Medicaid funding. Once these programs certify a long-term care facility, the nursing home must comply with the applicable rules, which include a list of rights for nursing home residents.

Some councils fall apart because families lack the time to participate. Some strategies that can address this common problem include:

  • Start meetings on time.

  • Every meeting should also have a stated end time. If people want to stay after the meeting and visit, they should have the option. However, when the meaning’s business items conclude or you reach to stated end time, conclude the meeting. People who do not want to stay afterward are then free to go about their business.

  • Have a written agenda and stick to it.

  • Have a place for “new business” and “old business” on the agenda.

It will take some dedication, but family and resident councils can go a long way towards creating a positive, cooperative environment in which nursing home residents receive quality care.

You might want to talk to an elder law attorney in your area about the ways your state’s regulations vary from the general law of this article.


National Consumer Voice. “Family and Resident Councils.” (Accessed August 15, 2019)