Controversy looms over nursing home arbitration
by Carol Thompson
When an elderly person is placed in a nursing home or assisted community, the person signing them in is most often a spouse or family member. Because the experience can be traumatic for both the patient and the family, signing an agreement to arbitrate in the event of a dispute is often something the person signing overlooks due to the emotional distress.
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The agreements are more often than not buried in mounds of paperwork, as many as 50 pages, most needing to be read and signed by the family member.
The nursing home industry uses arbitration agreements to stall cases, take appeals and delay justice. An elderly surviving spouse may not live long enough to see justice when nursing home corporations take this approach.
What this means is that the victims of abuse and neglect in nursing homes give up their right to a jury trial. This directly undermines the spirit and intent of the Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987: to improve the quality of care and clinical outcomes for our most vulnerable citizens.
Some states are attempting to pass a law that would prevent nursing homes from requiring spouses and family members from signing arbitration agreements as a condition of admission.
The federal government could easily bar these types of mandatory agreements as a condition of a home’s participation in the Medicaid program, but has repeatedly refused to do so. In fact, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is considering major changes in nursing home regulations, but under the proposed new rules, homes will only be required to “explain” arbitration agreements to residents, according to the Des Moines Register.
In lieu of arbitration, some states offer investigating units to address abuse and unsafe living conditions, however, few if any provide compensation for the family. In most instances, the nursing homes are issued a warning and/or fined. In severe instances the nursing home will be ordered closed.
Image/ Flickr: Boered