The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved a bill that protects the rights of nursing home residents to hold long-term care facilities accountable in court for negligence and abuse. According to this news report, the bi-partisan bill titled The Fairness in Nursing Home Arbitration Act of 2008 – is sponsored by Senators Herb Kohl, a Democrat and Mel Martinez, a Republican.
The need for this legislation was spurred by the fact that a number of nursing home residents and their families were finding out that they were unable to sue negligent nursing home facilities. This was because they had signed binding contracts at the time of admission stating they wouldn’t sue the facility. Basically, by signing these agreements, residents and their families sign away their right to hold negligent and abusive facilities responsible even in case of serious injury and/or death.
The cases are then sent into arbitration, which rarely end in favor of the victim or their families. And the entire arbitration process is confidential, which ensures that the nursing homes are not held publicly accountable for their negligence or substandard care.
I’m relieved that this important piece of legislation is finally making its way to the Senate. I hope the Senate passes this bill soon and ensures that the constitutional rights of nursing home residents are protected. Nursing homes often arm-twist the elderly and their desperate family members into signing unfair agreements. Such contracts must be made illegal because they are nothing but an insurance policy for negligent nursing homes to cover up their wrongdoing. And they are a slap in the face of consumers’ constitutional rights. This new law, if passed, will give family members peace of mind knowing that they will not have to sacrifice quality of care or give up their legal rights.
Our leaders and lawmakers have a responsibility to protect the most vulnerable section of our country’s population. A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report in 2003 revealed that 15 percent of the nation’s nursing homes – that is about 17,000 facilities – had substandard care. This is clearly an unacceptable number – a number that is very likely to go even higher if we don’t hold them immediately accountable.