Find Voting Rights Violations in Nursing Homes
Nov 5, 2012 - 5:43:41 PM
by Jennifer LaFleur ProPublica, Nov. 5, 2012, 9:50 a.m.
"We have a say-so in what goes on in our country," Green, 61, told other nursing home residents at a luncheon held last month in Washington, D.C. "I look at it as both a responsibility and a right to have my voice heard."
But not all nursing home residents get to exercise that right. Survey reports from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in ProPublica's Nursing Home Inspect database show that over the past few years, dozens of nursing homes have been cited for violating residents' voting rights.
At a nursing home in Anchorage, state inspectors reported that the facility failed to ensure residents the opportunity to vote in a municipal election. One resident was "visibly tearful" and said she had voted in every election, according to an inspection report.
Since that survey, the facility has taken steps to address the problems.
"As part of our plan of correction, we have established a voting protocol and better publicized how residents can access absentee and special needs voting," said Kirsten Schultz, spokesperson for Providence Health & Services Alaska. "On the day of the election, our activity coordinator will work with election officials to ensure that any residents who need assistance to vote receive the support they need." Since July, the facility has posted information about voting and staff talked with residents about voting.
In another case, surveyors reported that a nursing home in Los Angeles failed to help residents register to vote, which "resulted in the residents being denied their right, as citizens of the United States, to vote in an election." ProPublica has contacted the facility, but has not heard back. We will update you when we do.
"There's a sense that you go into a nursing home and have no more rights," said Robyn Grant, public policy director for The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care, "Many residents take their right very seriously and are proud to have voted in every Presidential election."
The rights of long-term care residents are laid out in the Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987, which protects the rights of long-term care residents as citizens of the United States.
"The facility can make an enormous difference in whether residents can exercise their constitutional right to vote," said Nina Kohn, a law professor at Syracuse University who specializes in elder law. "The facility may have to assist residents with voting. Residents may need to be reminded about voting."
It's not up to a facility to decide who should be able to vote, Kohn said. "There is no capacity test in this country for voting."
If nursing home residents or their families feel they have been denied those rights, they should contact their state nursing home ombudsman, Grant said.
You can explore the data yourself and find more voting problems in nursing homes using Nursing Home Inspect. Search for keywords like "vote," "voting" or "election." Be sure to read the reports carefully to exclude reports where voting applied to other issues, such as a vote among resident about television usage.