Helping a family member or friend get admitted to a nursing home can be a harried and vulnerable time. Unfortunately, it is at just that time when you may be asked to sign papers you do not understand and probably will not read carefully, if at all. And you may become a “responsible party” without even realizing it, and certainly without knowing what all that may entail.
Under federal law, nursing homes cannot require a third party to be personally responsible for payment of the nursing home’s bills as a condition of the resident’s admission or continued stay. 42 C.F.R. §§ 1396r(C)(5)(a)(ii) & 483.12(d)(2). Practically speaking, however, nursing homes will ask family members to sign admission papers as a “responsible party” and include language that can arguably be used to support a claim against them. For instance, the contract language may require the responsible party to communicate certain information to Medicaid, manage the resident’s assets in such a way as to qualify the resident for Medicaid, and, in essence, otherwise help ensure the nursing home gets paid. Then, if those things do not happen, the nursing home may make a claim against the responsible party and argue that he or she did not fulfil the obligations under the contract. If the contract explicitly makes the responsible party personally responsible for the resident’s bills, the nursing home may claim that person voluntarily entered into the contract.
The easiest way to avoid this problem is to have the resident sign his or her own admission papers.
If you do consider signing a resident’s admission papers, keep these three things in mind:
- Read everything thoroughly, repeatedly, and on your own timeline (preferably before the day of the planned admission).
- Be sure the contract language does not say you guarantee payment or that you accept personal responsibility for a resident’s nursing home expenses unless you truly and voluntarily intend to do so.
- When in doubt, do not sign.
Finally, remember that you can still be an emergency contact and advocate for the resident without having to sign the admission papers as a responsible party. They are not synonymous, and you may find that you can best serve your family member or friend (and protect yourself) without signing on as the latter.