Medicare Launches Red Hand Symbol Citing Nursing Home Abuse

Placing a family member in a nursing home is often fraught with fear, concern over care that will be provided, and safety.  Family members who are placed in a nursing home are vulnerable, sick, and often unable to advocate for themselves. Making decisions and finding the nursing home that meets a loved one’s unique needs is complex. 

In addition to visiting and interviewing the staff, families can use Nursing Home Compare, a tool with information about quality of care, staffing patterns, and health inspections resulting in an overall star rating.  Five stars is the highest rating that a nursing home can achieve.

In Spring, 2019, Medicare announced a five pillar plan to improve nursing home care.  The approach includes strengthening oversight, enhancing enforcement, increasing transparency, improving quality, and putting patients over paperwork.  The first pillar starts October 23 when Medicare will begin labeling nursing homes with a bright Red Hand in a circle, known as a “Do Not Proceed” symbol.

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The Red Hand is an alert to consumers that the nursing home has been cited for abuse, neglect or exploitation in the past year that led to harm of a resident in the past year.  The nursing home can also be labeled with a Red Hand if a citation was written for abuse that could have potentially led to resident harm in the past two years.

The Nursing Home Compare Red Hand will be updated monthly to provide more timely information to consumers.  The Red Hand will be removed when the nursing home corrects the issues of abuse or potential for abuse. 

It is expected that many nursing homes will be flagged with a Red Hand, especially in light of the recent mandatory reporting requirements.  Several of the nursing home trade associations suggest that the Red Hand will be applied based on reporting requirements, regardless of who initiated the abuse and the source of the abuse.

The Red Hand is another tool to help families do comparison shopping when placing a loved one in a nursing home.  Consumers can view Nursing Home Compare at  For more information or talk to a counselor can call 303-333-3482.

About the Author

Eileen Doherty

Eileen Doherty, MS has been the Executive Director of the Colorado Gerontological Society since 1982. She has more than 40 years of experience in education and training, advocacy, clinical practice, and research in the field of gerontology. She is an adjunct instructor at Fort Hays State University teaching non-profit management. She can be reached at 303-333-3482 or at

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