The Iowa Department on Aging is highlighting the rights of those in nursing, assisted living and other long-term care facilities this month. Iowa’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman, Deanna Clingan-Fischer, says they are calling it “Resident’s Rights Month.”

“Trying to make sure that we remember and reflect on the contributions of those individuals throughout their years of service,” Clingan-Fischer says. “I think the main part about Resident’s Rights Months is just allowing us to focus on the rights of those individuals in long-term facilities and to increase the knowledge base amongst the general population that these individuals do have rights, and they haven’t lost those rights just because they’ve gone into a long-term care facility.”

The rights are guaranteed by the federal Nursing Home Reform Law and Iowa law, but people sometimes forget about those in the facilities because they don’t have as much interaction with the general public. “Many people think that if they are in a care facility they can’t know what they are talking about, or they’ve lost their ability to contribute to society. And we’d really like to dispel that myth,” Clingan-Fisher explains.

“Older individuals can participate and be involved in activities and do the things that all the rest of us can do, sometimes with limitations as they get older. But our job is to help them be able to participate in those activities despite those limitations.” This is an election year and voter participation is one of the key issues for residents of the facilities.

“Voting always comes up — can a resident exercise their right to vote or not — the answer is ‘yes’ they can. Just because I am in a long-term care facility or setting, doesn’t mean that I’ve lost my ability to vote,” according to Clingan-Fischer. She says family members can have a helpful role in ensuring that residents are being treated fairly.

“They need to be able to participate in their own treatment plans and care. They have the right to be fully informed to make decisions that impact them. They have the right to complain if something isn’t going right and not fear retaliation for the complaint,” Clingan-Fischer says.

“So many times what happens is the family member might discover that some of these rights might be violated.” She encourages you or a family member to call her office if you think such rights are being violated.

“Because we are an advocated for those residents, and we ensure that the residents and the tenants rights are met and protected so that they can (enjoy) a quality of life,” Clingan-Fischer. You can call the Long-Term Care Ombudsman at 1-866-236-1430.

Clingan-Fischer says there are over 800 such facilities across the state that are home to thousands of Iowans.