Nursing homes will say to us “we didn’t have to provide that kind of care for Mrs. Smith – look at the contract she signed,” or “you can’t sue us – look where you agreed to arbitration.”
Well we have done a great deal to expose the dangers of nursing home contracts – now, we are not alone. The National Senior Citizens Law Center did some research of their own and found
” some admission agreements skirt state and federal laws, misleading consumers about the care they can expect and inducing them to sign away critical consumer protections.”
Although industry officials criticized the study’s findings, advocates for the elderly said it raised serious questions about how some nursing homes operate.
“People are signing these agreements in a crisis situation, assuming they are legal, and then when there is a problem down the line, they are being told they agreed to this,” said Andrea Routh, a former director of the Missouri Division of Aging and now a health-care consultant.
The National Senior Citizens Law Center, a Washington-based nonprofit legal advocacy group for seniors and elder-care lawyers, reviewed 175 admission agreements voluntarily provided by nursing homes. The study found agreements which improperly limited a nursing home’s obligations. Others allowed discharges for vague reasons, or stuck relatives with bills they legally didn’t owe.
Eric Carlson, the study’s author, said that some of the agreements conflict with the federal Nursing Home Reform Law and state laws. The federal law requires nursing homes to provide care that helps residents reach the “highest practicable” level of functioning.
But Carlson said some agreements instead seek to get seniors or their families to lower their expectations of care and assume more of the risks of injury, such as falling or choking.
The study was requested by the Missouri long-term care ombudsman’s office.
The Missouri study found that nursing homes sometimes protect themselves by persuading seniors to waive legal remedies. In 18 percent of the agreements, seniors were required to submit a dispute to arbitration, rather than sue in court.