Posted: October 27th, 2022

Case Study

The Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (OBRA), also known as the Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987, has dramatically improved the quality of care in the nursing home over the last twenty years by setting forth federal standards of how care should be provided to residents. 

This Act is interpreted with the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (42 CFR Part 483). Such improvements include less use of antipsychotic drugs, a reduction in chemical and physical restraint use, and a reduction in inappropriate use of indwelling urinary catheters.


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The quality of care mandates contained within OBRA, and the regulations, require that a nursing home must provide services and activities to attain or maintain the highest practicable physical, mental, and psychosocial well-being of each resident in accordance with a written plan of care. 

In order to participate in Medicare and Medicaid programs, nursing homes must be in compliance with the federal requirements for nursing homes.

The mandates of OBRA are regarded in the nursing home setting to represent minimum accepted standards of care. The failure of a nursing home to comply with the OBRA quality of care mandates in caring for a resident represents a failure to exercise the degree of reasonable care and skill that should be expected.


The Indiana State Department of Health is responsible for ensuring that nursing homes follow these mandates through the state survey process. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the states may apply penalties against nursing homes for failure to meet the minimum standard of care as defined in the OBRA regulations. 

Such penalties may include fines, appointment of administrative consultants to run the nursing home while deficiencies are remedied, and even closure of a nursing home.

  • Residents must be assessed to identify their medical problems and their abilities to perform basic self-care activities. The DHHS established a uniform data set, referred to as the minimum data set (MDS), to document this assessment.
  • The nursing home is responsible for the safety of each resident. This includes being responsible for orders written by the resident’s primary physician or other medical provider. If the physician writes an order that does not comply with the federal regulations, the nursing home is responsible for making sure the physician changes such order. The mere presence of a physician’s inappropriately written order does not absolve the nursing home of responsibility in providing safe care.
  • Provide services that will enhance each resident’s quality of life to its fullest (42 CFR §483.15).
  • Maintain the dignity and respect of each resident (42 CFR §483.15).
  • Develop a comprehensive care plan for each resident (42 CFR §483.20).
  • Conduct a comprehensive and accurate assessment of each resident’s overall health upon admission and at each required interval (42 CFR §483.20).
  • Prevent a decline in activity of daily living (ADL) activities, including the ability to eat, toilet, bathe and walk. Staff must provide for ADL care when necessary (42 CFR §483.25).
  • Prevent the development of pressure sores, and if a resident has pressure sores, provide the necessary treatment and services to promote healing, prevent infection, and prevent new sores from developing (42 CFR §483.25).
  • Provide appropriate care to those who have urinary incontinence and restore bladder function if possible. This also includes only using urinary catheters when appropriate as outlined in the regulations to prevent adverse consequences related to such use (42 CFR §483.25).
  • Prevent accidents, including falls, accidental poisonings and other incidents that could cause injuries (42 CFR §483.25).
  • Maintain adequate nutrition to prevent unnecessary weight loss (42 CFR §483.25).
  • Provide each resident with sufficient fluid intake to prevent dehydration (42 CFR §483.25).
  • Ensure that residents are free from significant medication errors (42 CFR §483.25).
  • Have sufficient nursing staff (42 CFR §483.30).
  • Ensure that each resident’s rights to choose activities, schedules, and health care are maintained (42 CFR §483.40).
  • Provide pharmaceutical (medication) services to appropriately meet the physical and psychological needs of each resident (42 CFR §483.60).
  • Maintain accurate, complete, and easily accessible clinical records for each resident (42 CFR §483.75).

CASE STUDY: Mrs. J is repeatedly asking for a nurse; other patients are complaining, and you simply cannot be available to Mrs. J for long periods.  Considering the setting and the OBRA guidelines, what would you do to manage the situation?

Federal Nursing Home Reform Act
from the

Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987
or simply

  • Developed by Hollis Turnham, Esquire

    In 1987, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the first major revision of the federal
    standards for nursing home care since the 1965 creation of both Medicare and Medicaid
    42 U.S.C1396r, 42 U.S.C. 1395i-3, 42 CFR 483. The landmark legislation changed
    forever society’s legal expectations of nursing homes and their care. Long term care
    facilities wanting Medicare or Medicaid funding are to provide services so that each
    resident can “attain and maintain her highest practicable physical, mental, and psycho-
    social well-being.”

    Medicaid Provision: 42 U.S.C. 1396r(b)(4)

    Medicare Provision: 42 U.S.C. 1395i-3(b)(4)

    Federal Regulations: 42 CFR 483.25
    retrieve.html – page1 (Use the search engine at the bottom of the page to retrieve a
    specific title part and section.)

    WHAT IS OBRA ’87?

    The Federal Nursing Home Reform Act or OBRA ‘87 creates a set of national minimum
    set of standards of care and rights for people living in certified nursing facilities. This
    landmark federal legislation comes by its common name “OBRA” through the legislative
    process. Congress, then and now, usually completes a huge measure of its budgetary and
    substantive work in one large bill. The bill accomplishing that function in 1987 was
    entitled the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987 or “OBRA ‘87.” The separate
    Federal Nursing Home Reform Act along with many other separate bills was “rolled
    into” one bill to insure final passage of all the elements.

    These minimum federal health and care requirements for nursing homes are to be
    delivered through variety of established protocols within nursing homes and regulatory
    agencies. And as minimum standards, Long-Term Care Ombudsmen should view OBRA
    as a baseline that should be built upon to reach not only resident “well-being” but also
    happiness and fulfillment.

    OBRA also recognized the unique and important role performed by the LTCOP for
    nursing home residents. The federal Medicaid and Medicaid legislation included those

    distinct advocacy roles and subsequent regulations and other guidance has given LTCOPs
    additional tools to serve resident interests.

    The changes OBRA brought to nursing home care are enormous. Some of the most
    important resident provisions include:

    • Emphasis on a resident’s quality of life as well as the quality of care;
    • New expectations that each resident’s ability to walk, bathe, and perform other

    activities of daily living will be maintained or improved absent medical reasons;
    • A resident assessment process leading to development of an individualized care

    plan 75 hours of training and testing of paraprofessional staff;
    • Rights to remain in the nursing home absent non-payment, dangerous resident

    behaviors, or significant changes in a resident’s medical condition;
    • New opportunities for potential and current residents with mental retardation or

    mental illnesses for services inside and outside a nursing home;
    • A right to safely maintain or bank personal funds with the nursing home; Rights

    to return to the nursing home after a hospital stay or an overnight visit with family
    and friends The right to choose a personal physician and to access medical records;

    • The right to organize and participate in a resident or family council;
    • The right to be free of unnecessary and inappropriate physical and chemical

    • Uniform certification standards for Medicare and Medicaid homes;
    • Prohibitions on turning to family members to pay for Medicare and Medicaid

    services; and
    • New remedies to be applied to certified nursing homes that fail to meet minimum

    federal standards.

    OBRA set in motion forces that changed the way state inspectors approached all their
    visits to nursing homes. Inspectors no longer spend their time exclusively with staff or
    with facility records. Conversations with residents and families are a prime time survey
    event. Observing dining and medications administration are a focal point of every annual

    Under OBRA, Long Term Care Ombudsman Programs have defined roles to fulfill and
    tools to use in the annual inspection process to nurture the conversations between
    residents/families and inspectors and life in the nursing home.


    The federal Nursing Home Reform Act became law with growing public concern with
    the poor quality of care in too many nursing homes and the concerted advocacy of
    advocates, consumers, provider associations, and health care professionals. Congress
    asked the Institute of Medicine (IoM) to study how to better regulate the quality of care in
    the nation’s Medicaid and Medicare certified nursing homes.

    In its 1986 report Improving the Quality of Care in Nursing Homes, the expert panel

    • A stronger federal role in improving quality;
    • Revisions in performance standards, the inspection process, and the remedies to

    improve nursing home services;
    • Better training of nursing home staff;
    • Improved assessment of resident needs; and
    • A dynamic and evolutionary regulatory process.

    Information can be found at:

    In order to assure implementation of the IoM recommendations from the “blue ribbon
    panel,” the National Citizens’ Coalition for Nursing Home Reform organized the
    “Campaign for Quality Care” to support the federal reforms. National organizations
    representing consumers, nursing homes, and health care professionals worked together,
    and continue to work, to create consensus positions on major nursing home issues. Their
    consensus positions on the IoM report laid the foundation for the federal law.
    OBRA has changed the care and lives of nursing home residents across America. There
    have been significant improvements in the comprehensiveness of care planning. Anti-
    psychotic drug use declined by 28-36% and physical restraint use was reduced by
    approximately 40%.

    Several states have taken all or parts of OBRA ‘87 and made them state law for their
    licensed nursing homes or other kinds of long term care facilities. For example, the state
    of Washington has extended the rights that nursing home residents have to residents of all
    Washington long term care facilities. RCW 70.129.005 And, Michigan has incorporated
    many of the OBRA prohibitions on Medicaid discrimination into state law. MCLA

    Online Research: The links to federal laws and regulations in this document have been
    made to the most reliable sources known to the Ombudsman Resource Center. Links to
    the Medicaid and Medicare laws are made to the Legal Information Institute maintained
    by Cornell University. The federal code of regulations is accessed here through the
    United States Government Printing Office. If these resources do not meet your needs or
    you find better resources for federal legal research, please contact Center staff at


      OBRA ‘87 SUMMARY

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