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Articles Posted in Legislation

The U.S. Court of Appeals, 3rd Circuit has ruled that the Federal Nursing Home Reform Amendments grants residents of county-operated nursing homes the right to bring civil rights claims for allegations of abuse, neglect, or other care-related complaints.

The ruling arose in a case involving the 80-year-old Melvinteen Daniels, who died in a county-run nursing home as a result of neglect, malnourishment, and pressure ulcers. The family brought a lawsuit against the nursing home alleging, among other things, civil rights claims under Section 1983. Challenges to the claims wound their way through the courts and leading to yesterday’s ruling.

In a 23-page opinion, U.S. Circuit Judge Richard L. Nygaard held that, “the language used throughout the FNHRA is explicitly and unambiguously rights-creating. These provisions make clear that nursing homes must provide a basic level of service and care for residents and Medicaid patients.”

For the fourth congress in a row, a bill designed to protect seniors from elder abuse has been reintroduced. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark, submitted the bill with the goal of protecting elderly Americans from physical, financial, and psychological abuse.

The bill would order the federal government to collect data on elder abuse; penalize failure to report abuse in long-term care facilities; provide Adult Protective Services grants with $100 million annually for four years; and create a council to coordinate federal, state and local response to elder abuse.

Hatch noted that more that 500,000 elderly Americans are subject of domestic elder abuse, and that the government currently spends almost $7 billion a year on child abuse, but only $163 on elder abuse. He stated that the growing number of elders demands that action be taken.

The Ombudsman Services of Northern California, an organization dedicated to creating a corps of compassionate advocates for residents in long-term care facilities believes that state budget cuts to its ombudsman program will lead directly to an increase in cases of elder abuse and neglect.

This year the organization, which tracks approximately 1,600 nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, lost two-thirds of its staff due to shortfalls in the state budget. According to Joan Parks, nursing facilities are already taking advantage of the lack of oversight.

“Our monitoring in these homes was seen as a form of prevention,” Parks said.

It is hoped that a new California law which will go into effect January 1, 2009 will cause increased reporting of thefts from elderly residents of nursing homes.

The new law will require police and facility ombudsmen to immediately report cases of known or suspected elder abuse, specifically including theft, to the local District Attorney’s office.

Elder theft in nursing homes frequently goes unreported. Nursing home administrators/owners claim that most thefts result from the elder “misplacing” their property. The reality is that most thefts do not get reported because it makes the facility look bad. It is hoped that the new law, which specifically requires facilities to report theft, will result in increased reporting of elder theft.

Washington D.C.’s most powerful lobbyists are being hired by the nursing home industry to fight congressional efforts to reform the industry. The industry is closely watching bipartisan legislation that would significantly increase oversight and enforcement of nursing homes around the country.

The new legislation, recently introduced by Sens. Grassley (R) and Kohl (D), would require nursing homes to fully disclose their ownership structures, and would increase penalties if a patient is injured or dies due to negligent or neglectful care. The industry is expected to pay millions to fight this legislation.

Why would nursing home owners disapprove so strongly of a law that requires them to disclose who actually owns and runs the facilities that provide them such a great profit? Liability. Many owners have created maze-like ownership structures that makes it nearly impossible to find out who actually owns the facility when something goes wrong. It’s not uncommon to have a one corporate entity own the building, who then leases it to a second company (the nursing home), who then contracts with a third company to operate it.

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