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Patients’ Nursing Home Lawsuit over Understaffing Reinstated by Appeals Court

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A California appeals court has reinstated a lawsuit against the owner of 16 care facilities in Alameda County stating that patients can sue these nursing homes for failing to meet the state’s nurse-staffing standards, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The owner of the nursing homes in question, Orange County-based Covenant Care, argued that only state regulators have the authority to enforce a requirement that nursing homes provide each patient with 3.2 hours of nursing care per day. A Superior Court agreed and threw out the lawsuit. However, the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco disagreed and overruled that decision.

Important Ruling

The Presiding Justice, Ignazio Ruvolo, said in the unanimous 3-0 ruling that state law gives its blessing to nursing home residents to bring action against the facility to “remedy violations of their rights.” Those rights include, according to the judge, the right to live in a facility that is properly and adequately staffed. The group of patients that is suing Covenant Care is seeking to prove that the facilities violated state staffing standards at least 35 percent of the time over a four-year period beginning in December 2006.

The patients are seeking to get a court order requiring the nursing homes to comply with the rules – something these care facilities should have been doing in the first place. Nursing home advocates say this is an important ruling because the California Department of Public Health has been lax in enforcing these important standards and has even been criticized by federal inspectors for being ineffective in that regard.

Protecting the Rights of Nursing Home Residents

There is no question that when the state fails to protect its residents, residents should be able to fight for their rights. The appeals court judges made the right call by reinstating the residents’ lawsuit. This lawsuit is not about money, but to make these nursing homes that keep their facilities deliberately understaffed, comply with mandatory state regulations that are in place for a reason. Covenant Care, the company that is facing this lawsuit, apparently reduced staffing while receiving $15 million in additional state funding through 2008. Egregious!

Understaffing is the one of the main reasons we have nursing home abuse and neglect in the United States. A nursing home that fails to recruit sufficient staff and hires unqualified and inexperienced workers creates an environment that is ripe for abuse and neglect. These facilities put profits over the health and well being of their residents, which is absolutely unacceptable.

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