Last month, the federal government signaled its intention to roll back protections critical to the health, safety and welfare of vulnerable nursing home residents. The rule they want to eliminate bans the use of pre-dispute arbitration agreements. These agreements require older adults, people with disabilities and their families to waive their rights to the judicial system before a dispute even arises. Then, any dispute, even abuse or neglect, and regardless of how egregiously they’ve been harmed, is forced into secretive arbitration proceedings.
Typical nursing home claims involve injuries such as pressure sores that lead to infection; amputated limbs; suffocation on bedrails and other restraints; choking;; sexual assault; renal failure and other conditions caused by dehydration; malnutrition; severe burns; gangrene; and painful, immobilizing muscle and joint problems resulting from long-term inactivity. All of these are avoidable conditions that are the result of negligence or even willful misconduct by long-term care facilities.
These forced arbitration agreements are presented to prospective residents and their families during the admission process, an extremely difficult and stressful time. Individuals typically feel compelled to sign because they are under extreme pressure to be admitted and the implied message is they must agree or be refused care. To make matters worse, under the recent government proposal, this message would no longer be implied. Nursing homes could refuse admission to a resident whose family, acting on their behalf, is unwilling to sign away their rights. This holds residents hostage – they must agree to give up their rights in order to have essential care and a place to live.