Last week, an agency within the United States Department of Health and Human Services issued a rule barring any nursing home that receives federal funding from requiring residents to resolve any disputes in arbitration rather than in court. Arbitration is a private alternative dispute resolution system where claims of elder abuse, sexual harassment and even wrongful death in nursing homes are often resolved. This new rule requiring federally aided institutions to bring such claims to court promises to deliver major new protections for nursing home residents. To justify the practice of settlement in arbitration, the nursing home industry has said that this option offers a less costly alternative to court. The industry has long held that allowing more lawsuits could drive up costs and force some homes to close.
However, some government officials and attorneys in elder care have a much different perspective. They contend that arbitration potentially hides embarrassing practices and claims, making the corporation’s image the priority. Patterns of complaints or wrongdoing stay concealed from prospective residents and their families. Clauses embedded in the fine print of nursing home admissions contracts have pushed disputes about safety and the quality of care out of the public view. Residents are often coming to nursing homes under such stressful circumstances that they are especially susceptible to being unaware of the implications of such agreements.
With this new rule, millions of elderly Americans will regain the fundamental right to their day in court. This rule could be challenged in court; absent of those challenges, the rule should go into effect by November.
If you would like to learn more about the nursing home rule or your rights as it relates to pursuing legal action against such an institution, the attorneys at Burke Harvey are here to help.