Wisconsin Nursing Home Laws And Regulations

The Wisconsin Department of Health defines abuse in nursing homes as physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, financial exploitation, neglect, and self-neglect. These include acts of restraint, isolation or confinement, or harm to the client’s psychological or intellectual functioning. Forcible administration of medication or treatments is also considered abuse.

Unfortunately, the number of cases of elder abuse has drastically increased year over year since 2001. As reported by the Wisconsin Department of Justice, there were 3,251 reported elder abuse cases in 2001. By 2018, that number had grown to 8,803. As of 2021, there were over 10,000 incidents reported. 

Though many of these cases are self-neglect, 9% involve neglect by others, and one-fifth of reported cases include financial abuse of some sort. 

Nursing homes can provide a reprieve for those elderly who are being abused by family, friends, or caretakers. However, sometimes those nursing homes can prove breeding grounds for more intense abuse, especially when the elderly are separated from their families by long car rides or plane trips. The majority of cases of elder abuse and neglect occur in the person’s place of residence, whether in their home or a nursing home. 

If you or a loved one have experienced elder abuse in Wisconsin, contact Boller & Vaughan. We help victims who come to us for legal representation, but we’re also committed to shedding more light on this problem to enable others to see the signs and take action to stop it.

Wisconsin laws designed to protect the elderly in nursing homes

There are a number of laws in place to protect the elderly and disabled in Wisconsin and in the U.S. in general.

The first law is dictated by Wisconsin Stat. § 50.01(3), which defines a nursing home is: “a place where 5 or more persons who are not related to the operator or administrator reside, receive care or treatment and, because of their mental or physical condition, require access to 24-hour nursing services, including limited nursing care, intermediate level nursing care and skilled nursing services.”

As dictated by DHS 132.60, nursing home residents also have the right to:

  1. Hygiene (each resident shall be kept comfortably clean and well-groomed)
  2. Decubiti prevention (prevention of bedsores)
  3. Basic nursing care
  4. Engagement and encouragement to take part in activities
  5. Fast reporting of any changes to medical conditions
  6. Pain monitoring and updates to attending physician
  7. Rehabilitation and assistive devices 
  8. Proper nourishment via food and fluid based on the resident’s diet.
  9. Proper delivery of a resident’s necessary medications

As per Wisconsin state law DHS 132.31(6), any resident of a nursing home may file a complaint with a licensee or the department regarding the operation of a facility if these rights are violated.

Nursing homes and care facilities in the state of Wisconsin must also run a background check on all employees to prevent instances of abuse.

There are also federal codes for regulations and definitions that also define what a nursing home can and cannot do. If the nursing home provides care for Medicare and Medicaid recipients, they also must follow the State Operations Manual rules and abide by definitions, care plans, and facility limits.

In general, the Wisconsin, federal, and Medicare/Medicaid regulations guarantee that residents have the right to: 

  • Private and unrestricted visitation and communication with anyone they choose (via mail, in-person visits, or phone) 
  • Reasonable access to financials (if managed by the facility)
  • Manage their own finances
  • Keep and use personal possessions
  • Adequate care and supervision

Residents cannot be: 

  • Humiliated
  • Harassed
  • Threatened
  • Physically abused
  • Sexually abused
  • Mentally or verbally abused
  • Financially abused
  • Restrained physically or chemically
  • Subjected to involuntary seclusion
  • Discriminated or reciprocated against when they voice grievances about their care or contact the Ombudsman to advocate on their behalf

Common signs of elder abuse in Wisconsin nursing homes

While these laws and regulations are in place to protect the elderly population, they don’t eliminate abuse. This is why it’s so important to understand the signs. 

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services has identified some of the most common signs of elder abuse neglect as: 

  • Unexplained bruises, pressure marks, lacerations, or burns
  • Signs of constraint
  • Broken communication or mobility devices
  • Broken bones or unexplained wounds
  • Poor hygiene
  • Appearing scared or anxious
  • Depression, panic, or emotional distress
  • Unusual passivity or helplessness
  • Sudden changes in financial assets
  • Adding new authorized names to bank accounts
  • Unexplained changes to wills and other legal documents
  • Lack of access to food and water
  • Sudden changes in weight
  • Unfilled prescriptions

If you believe you or a loved one is being abused in the care of a nursing home, it’s important to contact authorities and get help as soon as possible.  Please call Boller & Vaughan LLC at 608-268-0268 or submit an online questionnaire.

Know your rights and responsibilities before placing a loved one in a nursing home 

Nursing homes are not simply warehouses for the elderly and disabled — they are meant to be spaces and homes that improve quality of life. There are many laws governing the treatment of nursing home residents in the state of Wisconsin, including their legal right to be treated with dignity. 

Many nursing home residents and family members aren’t made aware of the laws and regulations regarding nursing home treatment, including their duty to promote as much independence for residents as possible. 

All nursing homes in Wisconsin are subject to the laws and regulations of the state. Prior to choosing a care facility, we encourage you to do your due diligence. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services has a provider and facility search that offers detailed information about each facility in the state. You can access their nursing home search function here, or their assisted living search function here.

What to do if you suspect an elderly loved one is being abused or neglected in a Wisconsin nursing home

If you believe that you or a loved one may be a victim of nursing home abuse, remember that each Wisconsin county has a telephone number that people can call to report suspected abuse. Cases of alleged elder abuse may also be reported through the toll-free Elder Abuse Help Line at 833-586-0107.

If you want to seek a claim against a nursing home or provider because you or a loved one have experienced elder abuse or neglect in Wisconsin, our litigation team is here to help. Please call Boller & Vaughan LLC at 608-268-0268 or submit an online questionnaire.

You may schedule a complimentary consultation free of charge. Should we handle your case, we will work on a contingent fee basis, only recouping payment for our services should we win you monetary compensation. In many cases, a statute of limitations may apply. 


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