Forget the creepy clowns. Wanna get really scared today? Just do a Google News search of “nursing homes.” Here’s what you might find:
In New York State, “A woman who worked at Genesee County Nursing Home last year has been charged with abusing a patient after an investigation by New York State Attorney General’s Office.” She’s currently in jail.
A Pennsylvania nursing home chain just settled with the state Attorney General for $2 million for failing to provide basic care to people.
In Idaho, “[t]he Department of Health and Welfare says they found such serious issues [at a Nampa nursing home] that the facility can no longer take new Medicaid and Medicare patients.” Residents “told the department, ‘please help us, we are suffering.’ They also went on to say that they were mistreated and neglected.”
Nursing home operator Philip Esformes is the subject of “the largest single criminal health care fraud case ever brought against individuals by the Department of Justice” after withstanding "two decades of Justice Department probes and [Chicago] Tribune investigations into allegations of patient abuse, corruption and substandard conditions at their Illinois, Florida and Missouri nursing home facilities.” In one case, a “73-year-old hospice patient [was] beaten to death” by his 41-year-old roommate “who had a record of violence.”
Two Maryland patients were both discharged from a Maryland nursing home “into unlicensed assisted-living facilities, where they said they were assaulted and robbed.” Consumer activists and some regulators say “nursing homes are discharging patients when their more lucrative but short-term Medicare benefits expire.”
It gets worse. Nursing homes that are driven by greed instead of patient care can be stopped only one of two ways: regulation and litigation. If regulation doesn't work, the ability to sue is absolutely critical for holding facilities accountable and stopping neglect and abuse.
But in Arkansas, the insurance and nursing home industries have placed on the ballot "Issue 4" that – if it passes this November - would strip away significant legal rights from abused and neglected nursing home patients (among others) and “all but eliminate nursing home liability.” See more here.
To get this atrocious measure on the ballot, nursing home employees ran around getting signatures from sick and debilitated residents, many of whom have dementia. “[H]aving people in nursing homes who work there asking people to sign this very petition shocks the conscience," said Jordan Johnson of Protect AR Families. "These residents in nursing homes, they're essentially signing their life away. I wonder if they know that.…
And speaking of signing their life away, did you know:
1.3 million Americans live in nursing homes, and practically all facilities include arbitration clauses in their admission contracts, which can run as long as 70 pages. “Senior citizens and their families, when they sit down to sign into a nursing home, it’s incredibly stressful and emotional,” says Tad Thomas, a consumer attorney in Kentucky who has worked on several long-term care cases. “When the administrator is putting documents in front of them, the last thing they’re thinking about is the effects of what they’re signing.” …
Arbitration agreements force victims of nursing homes out of the legal system when seeking redress. They also give them no ability to appeal rulings. Nursing homes can use the same arbitrators repeatedly, while an aggrieved family only sees them once; this biases the system, as arbitrators have incentives to rule in favor of the nursing home if they want to be chosen again for future mediations. The costs of the arbitration are often split between both parties, which places a disproportionate burden on the plaintiffs as well. (Most families, after all, are not as wealthy as your average nursing-home chain.)
Of course, any nursing-home company—any company, really—will tell you that arbitration is more efficient than protracted legal proceedings, and there’s some truth to that. But that efficiency has costs, and not only to patients and their families: Arbitration also blinds the public to official misconduct.
In most cases, information gleaned from arbitration cannot be made public. That makes it difficult to monitor and remedy deficient facilities and crack down on what appears to be a disturbingly consistent pattern of abuse. “The victim with the complaint is not able to get the word out,” says George Slover, senior policy counsel at Consumers Union. “There’s less accountability to society.”
Nursing home residents and their families could use some good news about now. And I'm here to tell you that, in fact, there is some extraordinary good news to report! As the New York Times explained last week:
The federal agency that controls more than $1 trillion in Medicare and Medicaid funding has moved to prevent nursing homes from forcing claims of elder abuse, sexual harassment and even wrongful death into the private system of justice known as arbitration.
An agency within the Health and Human Services Department on Wednesday issued a rule that bars any nursing home that receives federal funding from requiring that its residents resolve any disputes in arbitration, instead of court.
The rule, which would affect nursing homes with 1.5 million residents, promises to deliver major new protections.
Clauses embedded in the fine print of nursing home admissions contracts have pushed disputes about safety and the quality of care out of public view.
The system has helped the nursing home industry reduce its legal costs, but it has stymied the families of nursing home residents from getting justice, even in the case of murder. …
With its decision, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, an agency under Health and Human Services, has restored a fundamental right of millions of elderly Americans across the country: their day in court.
The nursing home industry reacted strongly against the change. Mark Parkinson, the president and chief executive of the American Health Care Association, a trade group, said in a statement on Wednesday that the change on arbitration “clearly exceeds” the agency’s statutory authority and was “wholly unnecessary to protect residents’ health and safety.”
Yeah right. Read the Center for Justice & Democracy’s comments on the rule here. There’s really nothing left to say but thank you, CMS. Thank you, thank you, thank you. (And if you live in Arkansas, please vote NO on ballot Issue 4!)