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Nursing home residents: Know your rights during COVID

Family members can help keep loved ones safe, informed 

 June 1, 2020 

This is a frightening and confusing time for residents of long-term care facilities and their families. About 40 Iowa nursing homes have recorded outbreaks of COVID-19, and all have severely restricted visitors and adopted other rules to protect residents and staff. 

Amid the changes, long-term care residents and their families should know they have advocates, say Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Cynthia Pederson, and the U.S. Attorneys for the Southern and Northern Districts of Iowa, Marc Krickbaum and Peter E. Deegan Jr.  

“Your world has been turned upside down, but you do have rights,” the officials tell residents and their relatives. “Our offices can help ensure your rights are upheld.” 

During the pandemic, residents still have the right to:  

  • Receive the care and services needed to obtain their highest possible level of well-being. 
  • Participate in developing and implementing a person-centered plan of care that reflects personal and cultural preferences. This includes the resident’s right to make decisions about their care now and in the future, such as what treatment they might want related to COVID-19. 
  • Be free from abuse, neglect, exploitation, and misappropriation of resident property.  
  •  Voice grievances without discrimination or retaliation, or the fear of it, and prompt efforts by the facility to resolve those grievances.  
  • Not be discharged or transferred except for certain reasons, to appeal the decision, and have a safe and orderly discharge/transfer if the resident leaves the facility.

Video: Six questions to ask if a loved one is in a nursing home

Frequently Asked Questions 

Here are some answers to specific questions during the crisis: 

Q. What if I have concerns about a facility’s infection control practices or other issues?  

A. The nursing home should be taking several steps to prevent and control COVID-19, including following this guidance from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.  

 If you have concerns, talk to the director of nursing or administrator about your concerns and ask what they will do to address them. Contact the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman program for assistance and consider filing a complaint.    


Q. Will the nursing home tell me if residents or staff are infected? 

A. CMS has announced that as soon as even one case of COVID-19 is confirmed at a nursing home, the facility will have to alert its residents and their families or representatives by 5 p.m. the next calendar day. The information will also have to be reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and be made public.    

In Iowa, the state epidemiologist has defined as an outbreak in a long-term care facility as three or more cases, and the Iowa Department of Public Health is identifying those facilities on the state’s coronavirus website.   

Regardless, you can contact the nursing home to ask if it's had cases and deaths. If the facility is not forthcoming, contact the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman's Office. 

Q. What access do I have to my loved one in a long-term care facility?  

A.  Most facilities have restricted visitation. CMS guidelines recommend that outside visitors can come only in “compassionate care, such as end-of-life situations.”  

Ask facility administrators whether they will help residents call their loved ones by phone or video call and will set up a regular schedule for you to speak with your loved one.  

A bill in the U.S. Senate ― the Advancing Connectivity during the Coronavirus to Ensure Support for Seniors (ACCESS) Act ― would provide grants for nursing homes to buy tech tools and services to support virtual visits.  

Q. If the nursing home wants to transfer or discharge my loved one, what can I do? 

A. CMS has issued waivers to allow facilities to move residents to another room or facility and recommends that nursing homes set up separate facilities or units for infected residents to prevent spread.     

We recommend that nursing homes take steps to help residents and families understand what is happening, prepare residents as much as possible for the move, make sure their belongings move with them, and give them a choice to whatever extent possible. 

Some federal and state involuntary discharge protections have been waived for residents who are discharged from facilities for purposes of separating patients with COVID-19. If you or a family member receives a discharge notice, contact the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman’s office as soon as possible. 

In some states, residents who have left a facility to enjoy the outdoors or go to the store, even briefly, have been refused re-entry to the facility. If this happens to you or your family member, contact the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman’s office. 

Also, during the pandemic emergency, Gov. Kim Reynolds has suspended involuntary discharges for nonpayment to a long-term care facility and has halted evictions of tenants in other settings. 

Q. Can nursing home residents on Medicaid receive stimulus payments?  

A. Yes. Stimulus checks will not be counted as income and will not disqualify Medicaid beneficiaries from nursing home care. However, if the stimulus money is not spent within 12 months, it may be counted as an asset and could affect future eligibility. All Medicaid recipients must notify the Iowa Department of Human Services when they receive a stimulus payment.  

Other issues to keep in mind to protect your money:  

  • Be aware that a nursing home cannot take claim stimulus money. If you have problems, call the long-term care ombudsman. 
  • Watch out for scammers. The IRS or other government agencies will not contact you by phone, email, text message, or social media with information about your stimulus payment, or to ask you for your Social Security number, bank account, or government benefits debit card account number. Report scams to the Federal Trade Commission at
  • If you have received an economic impact payment as a debit card, please see

Q. What other scams should I watch out for? 

The FTC advises consumers to:  

  • Ignore online offers for vaccinations or other cures. There are no products proven to treat or prevent COVID-19 at this time. 

  • Be wary of ads for test kits. The FDA recently announced approval for one home test kit, which requires a doctor’s order. But most test kits being advertised have not been approved by the FDA, and aren’t necessarily accurate. 

  • Hang up on robocalls. Scammers are using illegal robocalls to pitch everything from low-priced health insurance to work-at-home schemes. 

  • Watch for emails claiming to be from the CDC or WHO. Use sites like and to get the latest information. And don’t click on links from sources you don’t know

  • Do your homework when it comes to donations. Never donate in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money. 


For more information on long-term care and coronavirus   

See this information from the National Consumer Voice for Long-Term Care and AARP.  

 World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is June 15. 



To seek help  

Office of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman 
510 E 12th St., Ste. 2 
Des Moines, IA 50319 
Phone: (515) 725-3308 or (866) 236-1430 | Fax: (515) 725-3313 



Iowa Attorney General’s Office  

Consumer Protection Division 
Hoover State Office Building 
1305 E. Walnut Street 
Des Moines, Iowa 50319-0106 


Phone: 515-281-5926 or 888-777-4590 (outside of the Des Moines metro area) 


U.S. Department of Health and Human Services ― Office of Inspector General OIG Hotline Operations 

Phone:  1-800-HHS-TIPS (1-800-447-8477) 
Fax:  1-800-223-8164 

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