A report by Mobilization for Justice has shined a light on how the popular use of “day passes” at nursing home facilities have been used to confine their elderly residents and limit their freedom. Originally intended to keep track of their elderly residents, most nursing homes required patients to attain a “day pass” whenever they would like to leave the facility. According to critics, this can leave elderly residents feeling like confined prisoners– only being allowed to leave at the discretion of their nursing homes.
The “day pass” policy, while common in most nursing homes, also varies significantly in its implementation. Some nursing homes may restrict hours that their residents can leave the facility, others may issue unclear guidelines for when a day pass may be approved, or apply them arbitrarily to different residents. According to the Mobilization for Justice, other assisted living facilities require residents to provide detailed information about their whereabouts, or may require the resident to be joined by an escort. Some even force residents to be “cleared” by a physician to ensure they are in a clear, capable state of mind to leave the nursing home.
The circumstances where a “day pass” is required to leave the facility have also expanded in recent years. It is not uncommon for a nursing home to require a day pass if a resident were to get lunch with a family member or simply leave the premises for some fresh air. Mobilization for Justice’s report gave examples of nursing home residents who were denied the opportunity to attend religious services or events with their families.
With the arbitrary nature of many nursing home’s day pass policies combined with their more expansive use recently, many nursing home residents say they feel like detainees. Responding to the report, New York Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard N. Gottfire said, “Nursing homes should not be allowed to require medical orders to go outside, revoke or forbid day passes as a punitive measure, or require urine tests upon return to the facility. This report shines light on truly shocking behavior, and the State Health Department must take action to make sure this doesn’t go on.”
For their part, nursing homes point out the benefits of requiring elderly patients to attain a day pass before leaving the facility. Pointing to the obvious fact that people living in nursing homes are generally incapable of independently caring for their own well being, a day pass can allow the facility to keep track of their residents and ensure they are not putting themselves in a potentially harmful situation. Recognizing the inherent value in the policy while also acknowledging its potential for abuse, Mobilization for Justice’s Director of Litigation for Aging and Disability Rights recommended that the “[Department of Health] develop a model policy for day pass access, issue clear guidance on resident’s rights to day passes, and track complaints about restrictive day pass access.”