Imagine the scene. You are sitting with your elderly dad in a nursing home’s admission office. On the floor are suitcases packed with his clothes, personal belongings, family photos and memories. You watch as the admission officer hands over a package containing hundreds of forms that need to be signed. His hands shake as he begins to sign the forms. Moments later, he is taken to his new “home” where, you know, he will live out the rest of his life.
While it is undoubtedly painful, putting Mom or Dad into a nursing home is sometimes necessary when they require around the clock care. In general, a nursing home’s admission office is frequently the scene of tears and anguish from grown children overwhelmed by the guilt of abandoning a parent to the home.
However, according to recent reports, insurance carriers and corporate nursing homes are seeking to capitalize on this vulnerability by sneaking a contract clause into the preadmission forms that take away rights guaranteed by the US Constitution and the Constitution of 48 states. This includes Mom or Dad’s right to a jury trial, the right to attorney’s fees and, the right to the full measure compensatory damage and/or punitive damages in the event of nursing home abuse or neglect.
Nursing homes present these clauses as a “take or leave it” deal. There is no mutuality. Mom or Dad is not permitted an opportunity to negotiate the terms and no lawyer is present to advise them. They are kept in the dark regarding the problems that persist in the nursing home industry and, protecting their legal right is the last thing on their mind as they sit in the admission office with their suitcases and belongings. If Mom or Dad refuses to sign, they are turned away from the door of the nursing home, despite their need for round the clock care.
At this point, you may be wondering why insurance companies and big corporate nursing homes try to slip these clauses into every contract? For starters, they recognize the vulnerability of Mom or Dad during the admissions process. Also, by taking away Mom or Dad’s right to gain access to the courts, corporations no longer have to worry about their wrongdoing being exposed. Access to the courts is our most effective means of holding companies accountable for their actions. Forcing Mom or Dad to waive their rights to sue is just another way corporations place themselves above the laws that are created and intended to protect us.
In our civil justice system, wrongdoers are supposed to be held accountable for the harm they cause. Innocent victims are also entitled to be compensated for the full measure of their loss. That is why this Father’s day, we should commit to support the “Fairness in Nursing Home Arbitration Act of 2008,” which is presently pending before Congress. This measure is supported by the AARP and has received additional bipartisan support from elder care and human rights foundations across the country.
As a gift this father’s day, I encourage you to write a letter to your local Congressman and state Senator regarding this bill (HR 6126 and S. 2838). In the letter, please urge Congress to act swiftly to outlaw pre-dispute, binding mandatory agreements in nursing home settings. With your help, senior citizens around the country will be given back their right to hold bad nursing homes accountable for the pain and suffering they have caused. In my opinion, there is no better way to say thank you to our fathers than by ensuring that they will be treated with dignity and respect in the final stages of life.