Nursing Home Abandonment

With so many nursing homes being understaffed, nursing home abandonment occurs far too often. There is some confusion about precisely what constitutes nursing home abandonment and how abandonment differs from nursing home neglect.

Abandoned elder woman crying on couch

According to the State of California Board of Registered Nursing, there are two conditions that must be met for nursing home abandonment to occur. They are:

1) The nurse must have accepted the patient assignment.

2) The nurse abruptly severed the nurse-patient relationship without notification.

A nurse-patient relationship is established when the nurse accepts the assignment to care for the patient. If the nurse ceases caring for the patient and fails to notify her supervisor or employment agency, she has abandoned her patient. The nurse has left no chance for her supervisor or employment agency to fill in for her absenteeism, leaving the patient without proper care.

If a nurse accepts responsibility for a patient and then severs the relationship without providing reasonable notice, it may lead to disciplinary action against the caregiver’s nursing license.

What Are Examples of Nursing Home Abandonment?

The following are some acts that would constitute nursing home abuse due to abandonment.

Icon of patient abandoned in a nursing home

Accepting a patient assignment and then exiting the unit without letting anyone know

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Providing substandard patient care

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Passing off your responsibilities for the patient to an unqualified caregiver

Nursing home abandonment

Providing substandard patient care

Icon of a patient sitting on a chair abandoned in a nursing home.

Leaving a patient alone without an appropriately licensed staff member

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Being intoxicated at work

Nursing home abandonment

Leaving the unit without collaborating with the oncoming shift

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Sleeping on duty

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Leaving the assisted living facility during an emergency

To further clarify what nursing home abandonment is, let’s consider some of the things it is not. The following are examples of nursing home staff behaviors that do not constitute nursing home abandonment.

  • Refusing to accept an assignment because the work environment is unsafe
  • Arriving late for an assigned shift, not showing up at all, or failing to call in
  • Refusing to accept an assignment because of cultural or religious reasons
  • Refusing to delegate patient responsibility to an inappropriate caregiver
  • Terminating your employment without giving appropriate notice
  • Refusing to administer care that you believe may injure the patient
  • Refusing to work in an environment where you are inexperienced
  • Refusing to come in and cover an unscheduled shift
  • Not returning to work after a leave of absence
  • Not showing up for mandatory overtime

If the nurse is not severing a nurse-patient relationship without properly notifying management, there is no danger of disciplinary action against the nursing license.

How Employers Can Reduce Abandonment of Residents

Employers and leaders can take steps to reduce incidences of nursing home abandonment, including:

  • Understanding the nuances between patient abandonment and employment issues
  • Attentively listening to nursing staff when they express concerns
  • Understanding the staff strengths and how to delegate optimally
  • Demanding qualified help when necessary

Working closely with senior leadership and staff members to understand their strengths and weaknesses will go a long way toward reducing abandonment in long-term care facilities.

How Nurses Can Avoid Abandoning Their Patients

The Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements states, “A fundamental principle that underlies all nursing practice is respect for the inherent dignity, worth, unique attributes, and human rights of all individuals.”

Nurses must protect and support patients and nursing home residents, which includes reporting questionable or impaired practice and guarding against abandonment.

Steps that nurses can take to avoid nursing home abuse due to abandonment include:

  • Don’t begin an assignment when feeling exhausted and in need of sleep
  • Learn about the differences between abandonment and employment problems
  • Only accept assignments you are qualified to handle
  • Remain professional and objective
  • Ask for help when you need it
  • Document everything clearly

Remember that once you begin an assignment, it is your duty to provide the patient with competent, safe care until you are properly relieved by another appropriately licensed health care provider.

Elder woman crying looking through rainy window

Nursing Home Abandonment vs. Nursing Home Neglect

There’s a lot of confusion about the terminology concerning abandonment, neglect, and abuse in long-term care facilities. To clarify, abandonment and neglect are both types of nursing home abuse. A matter of public health, abuse may be intentional or unintentional and falls into one of several categories, including:

Let’s review some signs of nursing home abandonment. If you notice any resident at a nursing home displaying these signs, bring it to the attention of the care ombudsman.

What Are the Signs of Abandonment?

Patient abandonment and other nursing home neglect issues can be difficult to detect. The signs are not as obvious as the signs of physical abuse, which might entail abrasions, scrapes, cuts, or broken bones. Some of the more subtle signs of possible nursing home abandonment or neglect include:

Nursing home abandonment can contribute to wrongful death, which can occur because of medication errors, untreated bedsores that cause sepsis, and preventable falls, just to name a few possibilities.

Act Against Nursing Home Abandonment

If your loved one in a nursing home exhibits any signs of nursing home injuries and malfeasance due to abandonment, you have options. The first thing to do is reach out to the care ombudsman at the nursing center and address your concerns. If you are not satisfied after that, consider contacting Adult Protective Services.

It is important to act right away. The sooner you begin the process of determining the cause of the symptoms, the sooner those symptoms can be alleviated and your loved one can enjoy a healthier, happier life.

Bedsores are particularly concerning. Untreated bedsores can enter stage 4 and cause septic shock and systemic infection that can lead to death.

Nursing home abandonment, neglect, and abuse cases are complex and can be difficult to prove. However, nursing care facilities are responsible for providing adequate hydration, proper nutrition, safety, hygiene, and medical care for every resident. When staff members at a skilled nursing facility fail to provide an adequate level of care, there can be serious legal consequences.

Contact an experienced and knowledgeable attorney today to schedule a free consultation. They will assess the details of your case to determine whether you have legal standing to initiate a nursing home abuse lawsuit and can represent nursing home residents, family members, and others who cannot represent themselves to decrease elder abuse, neglect, and abandonment.

Medically Reviewed by:

Dr. Patricia Shelton, MD

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  • University of Washington, Doctor of Medicine – MD. June 2008
  • University of Washington, Bachelor of Science – BS, Jun 2003


Neuroscience and Medicine


  • Dr. Shelton primarily writes content for health-related websites, but has also written test prep materials, white papers, published research articles, court documents, and more.
  • Dr. Shelton teaches anatomy and physiology at the college level for the National Institutes of Health.

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Nursing Home Abuse Should Have Consequences.

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Our fact-checking process begins with a thorough review of all sources to ensure they are high quality. Then we cross-check the facts with original medical or scientific reports published by those sources, or we validate the facts with reputable news organizations, medical and scientific experts and other health experts. Each page includes all sources for full transparency.
Our fact-checking process begins with a thorough review of all sources to ensure they are high quality. Then we cross-check the facts with original medical or scientific reports published by those sources, or we validate the facts with reputable news organizations, medical and scientific experts and other health experts. Each page includes all sources for full transparency.