What is a nursing facility resident council?

A resident council is an independent, organized group of persons living in a nursing facility who meet on a regular basis to discuss concerns, develop suggestions, and plan activities. If the nursing facility does not already have a resident council, it must try to establish one.

From the Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987 (OBRA):

  • A nursing facility must protect and promote the rights of each resident, including the right of the resident to organize and participate in resident groups in the nursing facility
  • Residents have the right to voice grievances with respect to treatment or care that is furnished without discrimination or reprisals
  • Residents have the right to prompt efforts by the nursing facility to resolve grievances the resident may have
Tasks of the group

  • Offer suggestions about the nursing facility policies and procedures which affect resident care, treatment, and quality of life
  • Plan resident activities
  • Participate in educational activities
  • Any others they choose


Why have a resident council?

The lives of nursing facility residents are heavily controlled by laws, rules, and policies set by the government and the nursing facility. Compromises in life-styles become necessary due to health problems and the close quarters within which residents live. These compromises and controls can make nursing facility residents feel like their opinions and preferences do not matter. Many nursing facility residents are not content to give up control over their lives. They want an active part in life and the chance to influence decisions which affect them. A resident council gives them that chance.

Effective resident councils can:

  • Improve communications within their nursing facility; resident councils are known as places to get the facts and can help dispel rumors
  • Help identify problems early when it is easier to do something about them; resident councils are an important part of the grievance process and help avoid the necessity of discussing problems with outside sources
  • Serve as a sounding board for new ideas; resident councils allow participants to review and comment on proposed nursing facility policies and operational decisions which affect resident life and care
  • Help individuals speak out about what is bothering them and help overcome fear of retaliation; when people are dependent on others for their needs, there is fear that they may make others so angry that care will be withheld
  • Improve the atmosphere of the homes where they are active; staff members appreciate having residents share in some of the responsibilities of planning activities and events
  • Promote friendship; by working in small groups which meet regularly, residents have a chance to get to know each other well


Do residents have a right to meet as a council?

Yes; State and federal laws give residents the right to meet as a council. At the time of admission, nursing facilities are required to inform new residents of their right to establish a council if one does not exist or to participate in the activities of a council which is already operating. The nursing facility must also provide space for meetings and assistance to residents who need the nursing facility’s staff, relatives, friends, or members of community organizations to participate in the meetings. The nursing facility must designate a staff person to serve as liaison to the council, to attend council meetings as requested, and to provide needed support services and assistance such as typing of minutes and correspondence.


How are resident councils organized?

The structure of a resident council can be the key to its success. The structure to choose depends upon the size of the nursing facility and the abilities and needs of the residents.


In small nursing facilities, resident councils are frequently operated as open meetings for all interested residents. There may be a steering committee to help plan meeting agendas and to follow up on decisions made by the council. Larger nursing facilities often have councils made up of representatives either elected or recruited from different sections of the nursing facility. In this style, council representatives are responsible for seeking the concerns and suggestions of residents in their area and for bringing this information to the meetings.


A model resident council

  • Residents run the council
  • The council receives support, not interference, from nursing facility staff
  • Residents feel comfortable speaking freely; raising issues and concerns
  • Residents are treated in a dignified manner, and their issues and concerns are taken seriously
  • Issues and concerns are promptly addressed by the appropriate departments
  • Residents have access to information as needed and as requested by the council
  • Different committees address the issues and concerns raised, and then follow up at the next meeting
  • The council is a vehicle to bring about positive changes for all residents in the nursing facility

Notes on resident councils

  • The nursing facility must provide space, privacy, and staff support
  • Normally, only the staff liaison person is present at the meetings; any other staff members come at the invitation of the council; liaison staff is present only if the group requests assistance
  • The ombudsman should be present and may serve as facilitator
    • The Older Americans Act of 1965: “The ombudsman shall…personally or through representatives of the office, provide technical support for the development of resident councils to protect the well-being and rights of residents.”
  • The councils do not have to have officers; of course, they may choose to organize in such a manner
  • The nursing facility must provide assistance to residents in writing up requests from the group
  • The facility must respond to such requests; requests may be in the minutes
  • The ombudsman should review the minutes/records made of council meetings by staff to insure they accurately reflect the council’s actions/desires
  • The nursing facility must listen to council views, act upon their recommendations, grievances concerning proposed policy, and operational decisions affecting resident care and life
  • The council should focus on suggestions for improvement, not just complaints
  • Structure council meetings so that residents experience success; confidence will build on their accomplishments
  • Council meetings do not have to be held monthly; the residents decide the frequency; at first, weekly meetings might be good
  • Ombudsmen need to insist that the meetings take place as scheduled; absence of the staff liaison is not a reason to cancel
  • Residents can meet alone, with the ombudsman, or with a substitute staff liaison