Vulnerable Nursing Home Patients Need Ability to Sue in Court as Government Agencies Fail to Protect Them
By Leslie Bailey, Staff Attorney, Public Justice
According to a new report just released by the Center for Investigative Reporting and reported by KQED, the failure of California regulators to adequately investigate and pursue claims of abuse and misconduct by nursing assistants and health aids is “putting the elderly, sick, and disabled at risk.” In fact, the regulators that are charged with protecting vulnerable patients in nursing homes and assisted living facilities are either conducting “cursory and indifferent” investigations, or simply closing cases without taking any action at all. The report underscores how critically important it is for people to have the ability to sue when loved ones are harmed by nursing home neglect—or worse.
Take Elsie Fossum. One morning in July 2006, the 95-year-old was found lying in a pool of blood, her arm broken and her face described by the registered nurse in charge at the nursing home as “beaten to a pulp.” Within a few weeks, Elsie died as a result of the wounds she’d suffered. A nurse suspected one of the nursing assistants, and a report was filed with the Department of Health. But according to KQED, the agency shelved the case for 6 ½ years and finally closed it without any investigation.
The CIR report paints a grim picture. There are approximately 160,000 nursing assistants and in-home health aids working at hospitals, nursing homes, and mental health facilities throughout California. As of 2009, the backlog of reported abuse and theft cases was so high that is was deemed a “crisis.” But rather than prioritize investigating, according to the report, “the state Department of Public Health quietly ordered investigators to dismiss 1,000 pending cases … often without a single phone call.” While the number of cases closed without action is on the rise, the main tool by which the agency is supposed to protect patients from abuse—revoking the licenses of nursing home employees—has plummeted in recent years. In other words, the abusers are permitted to continue working at their jobs, where they can continue to commit more horrific abuse. It’s gotten so bad that even a former Public Health director warns Californians: “do not count on the government taking care of you.”
Fortunately, we have the civil justice system, and anyone whose loved one is abused in a nursing home can file a lawsuit – right? Think again. As the Wall Street Journal reported, nursing homes—like pretty much all other businesses—are increasingly jumping on the forced arbitration bandwagon. That is, they’re requiring everyone who checks in to sign a contract forfeiting their constitutional right to sue. Instead, per the fine print, any claims against the home or its employees must be brought in private arbitration, in a secret proceeding before a hired gun chosen by the nursing home. But of course, the last thing on your mind when you’re in the painful process of admitting an elderly parent to a home is the fine print of the nursing home’s multi-page contract. The nursing home, of course, knows exactly what it’s doing: a study done by the nursing home industry itself found that as arbitration has increasingly replaced court as the forum for dispute resolution, the amount of money recovered by abuse victims and their families has decreased—even as complaints about poor treatment have risen.
If the government agencies charged with protecting our loved ones aren’t up to the task, then the only way to prevent more horrific abuses like that of Elsie Fossum is through private litigation. But the nursing homes know this, and they’re doing everything they can to use forced arbitration to exempt themselves from lawsuits. It’s time to fight back.
If you are facing an arbitration clause in a nursing home case, we can help. Email Leslie at firstname.lastname@example.org or Paul Bland at email@example.com
For more information, you can also read our article, "Combating Abusive Arbitration Clauses in Nursing Home Contracts."
DHS has a new, free handbook you can download HERE (pdf). If you are an elder thinking about having a family member provide your care, or if you're a family member who is or may someday be asked to provide care for a family elder or other family member with a disability, this is a worthwhile resource.
Prof. Gerry Beyer of Texas Tech posted about the latest in his "Wills Trusts and Estates" blog. He writes:
"[R]everse mortgages allow individuals 62 and over to receive money from a bank [now] in return for their home upon their death. . . . Reverse mortgage rules are going to change, which could mean less available funds for borrowers. The changes can also lower the program's high default rate.
[New] rules are expected to go into effect as early as October 1. The changes will reduce the number of homeowners that will qualify for reverse mortgages and the maximum amount will be reduced as well.
People who apply before October 1 will qualify for the amounts under the rules now. Folks that are considering a reverse mortgage should act quickly if they want the current laws to apply."
The always-excellent PBS program "Frontline" focuses its lens on the state of assisted living facilities in America. Spoiler alert: It ain't pretty.
The second Oregon edition of
Preparing for Departure ®
will be offered this coming fall 2013, in conjunction with the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Salem.
We are busy updating our material and revising the Oregon-specific provisions we added to the course outline last year with our first Oregon edition.
If you want to participate in this limited offering event and to be placed on the mailing list for updates and enrollment information about this powerful, one-of-a-kind course, complete the survey at this link and provide your contact information there: (Survey Link coming soon).
These scammers trying to pry your personal information out of you by making it appear that they're from the government.
On this one, note the barely readable small print disclosure that they're not, which is at the bottom and is about 1/20th as dark as the typeface that says "GOVERNMENT FUNDS AVAILABLE FOR FINAL EXPENSES" that appears at the top, next to the Pennsylvania Avenue address in Washington DC ( a nice touch, don't you think?)
Note the deceptive wording of the interior:
The government has made funds available for final expenses. Also available in your state, is a program designed to pay for what the government funds do not pay for your final expenses. If you qualify, this program can pay 100% of all funeral and final expenses for each person covered.
The comma after in your state is a nice touch for illiteracy.
Note the attempts to make it seem to come from a government source
The folks who prey on the elderly -- the Elderscammers -- never tire of trying to make their scam letters appear to come from an official source (anything that will get you to open them). When you get mail in an envelope that looks like this, your best bet is probably to recycle it immediately without even opening it.
If you are really torqued about their deceptive technique and want to make it a bit more expensive for them, here's one thing you can do: Open the envelope, but only so that you can find out if there is a postage-prepaid "Business Reply Envelope" inside (there often are). If there is a BRE, take a dark marker and write "STOP SENDING ME JUNK" on the reply card, and draw a big X over the part where they want you to give them all your personal information. Then stuff everything they sent you into the BRE, seal it, and drop it in the mail. This has proven remarkably effective at getting them to stop sending me any such junk. Sadly, all my elderly neighbors and friends keep me well supplied in examples of this kind of scam. (This one was another come-on for funeral expenses insurance, the biggest ripoff this side of waterline insurance plans.)
Mixed in with the many honest businesses, I'm sad to say that there are a TON of ethically challenged businesses out there too. They especially prey on elders, offering them outrageously overpriced goods and services, using all the time-tested tricks of the trade, trying to make it look like they are doing you a favor, and that you might have to "qualify" to do business with them -- when the only qualification is excessive trust in strangers by you, and a willingness to give out private information to total strangers. These people will use any information they can get to take advantage of you (and they will sell and trade that information to similarly exploitation-minded outfits -- along with the key fact, that you were so foolish as to respond to their mailing).
There's a good saying that "Good deals don't call you on the telephone" and the same goes in spades for junk mail like this. Honest businesses don't try to make money off you by selling you wildly overpriced insurance. I wish there was a way to require outfits like this to put a skull-and-crossbones watermark on every page of every letter they send out, because then you'd have a chance of realizing what pirates they are.
(hat tip to "The Housekeeping Report")
NCOA Issues Updated Guide for Seniors Considering a Reverse Mortgage
The National Council on Aging (NCOA) today issued the 2013 version of Use Your Home to Stay at Home™, the official reverse mortgage consumer booklet approved by the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD). The guide is designed to help seniors understand the pros and cons of a reverse mortgage. Reverse mortgages allow homeowners who are 62 or older to convert home equity into cash while remaining in the home.
Amy Ford, director of NCOA’s Reverse Mortgage Counseling Services Network, called the guide “an older homeowner’s best resource when it comes to examining whether a reverse mortgage is right for them.”
A free copy of the guide is available (download the pdf by clicking here).