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Nursing Homes Fight to Block Lawsuits From Residents

More than 1.4 million Americans live in nursing homes.

A rule change signed by President Barack Obama in 2016 would have made it easier for them to sue in instances of neglect or other types of abuse by preventing nursing homes enforcing contracts requiring residents to seek redress through arbitration rather than the courts.

But that Obama-era rule never went into effect because the American Health Care Association—a lobbying group representing nursing homes—went to court and got a temporary injunction to block the change.

Now the Trump administration is proposing a rule that would force nursing home residents to agree to arbitration or risk being denied admission.

The Illinois Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes in Illinois, declined to comment on the matter because of the pending lawsuit. But the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which supports the Trump proposal, says binding arbitration is a better solution for most people with complaints.

In a statement in support of the change the chamber said:

“Arbitration is an easier and less costly means of seeking redress than the complex and slow-moving court system, where obtaining relief is far more expensive and takes considerably longer. Arbitration also lowers businesses costs of resolving disputes, which creates savings that they can pass on to their customers. But these benefits can only be realized when parties are free to enter into arbitration agreements before disputes arise; despite arbitration’s overall systemic benefits, parties almost never agree to arbitration in a particular case after a dispute has arisen.”

But Ryan Gruenenfelder, manager of advocacy and outreach at the American Association of Retired Persons, says that nursing home residents with a grievance deserve the right to sue.

“In nursing homes, unfortunately abuse does happen, sexual abuse happens, neglect happens,” said Gruenenfelder. “And the families especially are very concerned about their loved ones that are in the nursing homes and they want to be able to get retribution for whatever may have happened to the person in the nursing home.”

Gruenenfelder said that the proposed new rule would also appear to violate federal law that requires the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to follow policy that is in the best interests of nursing home residents.

“Our argument is that if you’re prohibiting residents from being able to sue nursing homes, then that is definitely not in the best interests of the residents because it puts them in the way of abuse and neglect,” said Gruenenfelder.

Gruenenfelder joins host Phil Ponce to discuss nursing home residents’ right to sue.

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