New Regulations on Nursing Homes

Finally! Families can sue for justice

Big News people!

I just want to share some fantastic news, a tiny (but hugely important) news item that was buried in my email box, which was buried in an e-newsletter and, from what I can tell this last week, buried under much louder, sexier, bigger or political news.

Nursing Home Policy Change: Moving forward, any residential facility that accepts Medicare or Medicaid is no longer allowed to include “binding arbitration clauses” buried within their admissions paperwork. THIS IS HUGE. What typically happens is that nursing homes can require folks to sign away their rights to sue for physical abuse, neglect, wrongful death, financial abuse or any other serious complaint. Which happens a lot more than the public realizes.

photo from http://wisconsinwatch.org/2013/02/nursing-homes-fail-to-report-deaths-injuries/

Why would folks sign that? Most often the move to a nursing home is extremely stressful, both for the patient and their family. Perhaps the move is the result of a fall which resulted in a stay in a hospital and the realization that the client can no longer live independently (a very common path). So, often the family needs to find another housing situation ASAP, with the hospital social worker trying to place the client wherever they can (hospitals are the most expensive type of housing). And, as is the case here in the Bay Area and any number of large cities, the housing market is so tight that there are often long waiting lists for facilities and actually getting a bed in a decent facility (hopefully near family members and community connections) is more of a priority than comparing admissions documents. Additionally, reading over 20, 30 or 40 page documents to focus in on a few very “legalese” lines is challenging for many, not to mention folks for whom English may not be their first language or may be intimidated by this type of writing to begin with.

Truthfully: when was the last time you actually read one of those legal claims, like the ones that pop up for a new app or software?

Often facilities claim to need these, that they protect against frivolous lawsuits. And it is true, that we seem to have an extremely litigious society and the result is companies implement these kinds of policies. Yet, when facilities are responsible for the life and death of our loved ones, we should be able to assume some basic levels of care. Even hospitals are not able to force patients to sign binding arbitration causes*, so why should nursing homes? Additionally, facilities should be held accountable to any violation of that care, especially when they are A. receiving public funding and B. profit motivated often to the detriment of the clients ** (Just google “nursing homes” – see how many horrible, sad stories pop up)

However, I think it’s important to point out that this regulation has a couple of shortfalls:

  1.     This requirement is not retroactive, which means clients who have them now are stuck with them (unless they move I suppose)
  2.     It doesn’t touch any of the facilities that don’t take Medicare or Medicaid, such as assisted living facilities, board and cares, etc.
  3.     Additionally, there’s a growing trend (locally at least) where facilities “sell” their beds to hospitals, so they’re reserved for outpatients – it’s a cheaper rate for hospitals and a guaranteed profit for facilities. (It also doesn’t help that the Medicaid/Medicare reimbursement rates are ridiculously low.)

Ultimately this is great news folks  and maybe this will set a precedent. We can only hope, there really isn’t an industry that needs more transparency, patient centered care, and public awareness quite as badly as the institutional housing.

You can read the article HERE – a big thank you to Justice in Aging for covering, check them out HERE.

 

 

*to the best of my knowledge, please holler if I’m wrong!

** (see ProPublica’s in-depth, heartbreaking yet eye-opening reporting on abuse and death within facilities)

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