Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect Laws in Tennessee

Nursing home abuse and neglect

Nursing home residents have rights, and legal options to exercise those rights

Nursing homes are supposed to care for those who are unable to fully care for themselves. But all too often, vulnerable nursing home residents are abused or neglected. If you suspect that a loved one has suffered abuse in a nursing home in Tennessee, there are some things you should know and some steps you should take.
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A nursing home (sometimes called a “long-term care facility”) is a residential facility that provides health and personal care services for elderly or disabled people.

Though abuse can occur anywhere, it’s particularly common in nursing homes due to the fact that many residents are unable to report instances of abuse.

In Tennessee, nursing home abuse falls under medical malpractice, and residents have legal rights. In this article, we’ll look at the laws that protect nursing home residents, and we’ll provide some steps you can take if you or a loved one has been abused.

What is nursing home abuse?

The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) identifies 6 common types of nursing home abuse:

Physical abuse The use of physical force that may result in bodily injury, physical pain, or impairment (slapping, kicking, shoving, etc.).
Sexual abuse Non-consensual sexual contact of any kind with a resident (rape, coerced nudity, unwanted touching, etc.).
Emotional or psychological abuse The infliction of anguish, pain, or distress through verbal or nonverbal acts (verbal insults, verbal threats, the "silent treatment", etc.).
Neglect The refusal or failure to fulfill any part of a staff member’s obligations or duties to a resident (failure to provide food, water, clothing, personal hygiene, medicine, etc.).
Abandonment Desertion of a resident by a staff member who assumed responsibility for providing care for the resident.
Financial The illegal or improper use of a resident's funds, property, or assets (stealing money, deceiving a resident into signing a will, etc.).

How common is nursing home abuse?

Approximately 1.6 million people live in more than 17,000 licensed nursing homes throughout the country. The rates of nursing home abuse are alarmingly high. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 2 in 3 nursing home staff report that they have committed abuse within the last year.

According to the World Health Organization, 2 in 3 nursing home staff admitted to committing abuse in the last year. Tweet this

Unfortunately, nursing home residents in Tennessee are not free from abuse.

In 2019, a federal Special Focus Facility (SFF) report identified a number of nursing homes that have a “persistent record of poor care,” including abuse.

Eleven nursing homes on the list are located in Tennessee:

  1. Asbury Place in Maryville
  2. Bailey Park Community Living Center in Humboldt
  3. Brookhaven Manor in Kingsport
  4. Cornerstone Village in Johnson City
  5. Creekside Center for Rehabilitation and Health in Madison
  6. Dyersburg Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Dyersburg
  7. Greenhills Health and Rehabilitation Center in Nashville
  8. Life Care Center in Columbia
  9. Lauderdale Community Living Center in Ripley
  10. Rainbow Rehab and Health in Bartlett
  11. Westmoreland Health and Rehabilitation Center in Knoxville

What legal rights do nursing home residents have in Tennessee?

Nursing home residents have a number of legal rights in Tennessee. The full list can be found in Title 68, Chapter 11, Part 9 of the Tennessee Code. Here are some of the highlights:

✔ The right to privacy during treatment and personal care

✔ The right to visit in private with their spouse

✔ The right to communicate by telephone with any person they choose

✔ The right to take part in religious activities

✔ The right to receive unopened mail

✔ The right to be free from forced labor

✔ The right to refuse treatment

✔ The right to manage their own financial affairs

✔ The right to be free from chemical and physical restraints, except upon specific written orders of the treating physician

✔ The right to be free from willful abuse or neglect

✔ The right to be treated with consideration and respect

Additionally, there are a number of federal laws, including the Nursing Home Reform Act (NHRA), that provide residents with similar rights.

If any state or federal rights are violated, nursing home residents (or family members acting on their behalf) can file a civil lawsuit to recover money damages.

How are nursing home facilities regulated?

There are state laws that govern nursing homes and other healthcare facilities. These laws can be found in Title 68, Chapter 11, Part 201 of the Tennessee Code, and address things like licensing requirements, staff background checks, and fire safety.

Additionally, the Tennessee Office of Health Care Facilities is responsible for licensing nursing homes and for investigating complaints. You can file a complaint against a licensed nursing home facility with the Tennessee Department of Health.

What are the signs of nursing home abuse?

There are a number of factors that make it difficult for nursing home residents to report abuse. For starters, nursing home residents often fear retaliation or have a medical condition (such as dementia) that makes it difficult for them to recognize and report abuse.

Similarly, nursing home staff may not report abuse for fear of retaliation or fear that it will diminish the reputation of the facility.

As a result, it’s incredibly important that family members look for signs of abuse when visiting and talking with their loved ones. Here are some examples of what to look for:

Type of abuse Signs of abuse
Physical abuse
  • Bruising (especially in the torso or head)
  • Frequent injuries from accidents
  • Broken eyeglasses or frames
  • Caregiver’s refusal to allow visitors alone with the resident
Emotional abuse
  • Isolation of the resident
  • Refusing to allow visits alone with the resident
  • Observed threatening or belittling of the older person
  • Unusual weight loss
  • Malnutrition
  • Dehydration
  • Untreated physical problems
  • Unsafe and unsanitary living conditions
  • Soiled clothes and bedding
  • Inappropriate clothing for the weather
  • Desertion or abandonment of the resident in a public place
Financial abuse
  • Significant withdrawals from the vulnerable resident’s accounts
  • Sudden changes in their financial circumstances
  • Valuable items or cash missing from their home
  • Increase in junk mail soliciting
  • Purchases or payments for sweepstakes money
Source: Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability

What to do if you suspect nursing home abuse

If you suspect that your loved one is being abused in a nursing home in Tennessee, there are steps you can take:

  1. Report the abuse. If your loved one is in danger, call 9-1-1 to ensure that your loved one is protected. Additionally, by law, everyone in Tennessee is a mandatory reporter. This means that if you suspect abuse is occurring, you must report it. To report abuse, call the Tennessee Department of Human Services Adult Protective Services unit at 888-277-8366. You can also report abuse online to Tennessee Adult Protective Services. Finally, if you have suspicions or want to see whether a person or facility has a record of abuse, visit the Tennessee Department of Health’s Abuse Registry to search by name. 
  2. Gather information. If it’s safe to do so, gather any evidence you can to support the claim of abuse. This might include taking photographs of the injuries or conditions, requesting medical records, and obtaining witness contact information.
  3. Remove your loved one. If your loved one is not being treated properly in their nursing home, it’s time to consider removing them and placing them in a different facility.
  4. Contact an attorney. Once you’re sure your loved one is safe, consider reaching out to an attorney to explore your legal options.

If you or your loved one has been abused in a nursing home, you can use our free online directory to locate and meet with an attorney near you.


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