A new report released today by the American Association for Justice (AAJ) finds that there are 1.5 million elderly Americans currently residing in nursing homes – facilities that are now operated by mostly large corporate chains. But with decisions driven by profit concerns, many of these vulnerable residents have suffered abuse by staff members and even died from dehydration or infection caused by inadequate care. Litigation has revealed this neglect and abuse and allowed residents and their families to hold offending corporations accountable.
A common theme in the report is abuse by insurance companies taking advantage of senior citizens. It highlights the story of a South Dakota farmer named Rudy, who was one of a flood of patients that companies signed up for long-term care insurance in the 1990s. Rudy moved into a nursing home at his doctor’s suggestion, only to have his benefits cut after three years when the company declared his care was no longer “medically necessary,” despite faithfully paying his monthly premium.
Thousands of seniors met similar fates as insurance companies miscalculated mortality rates and searched for ways to deny claims and cut off benefits, figuring few of their terminated policyholders would fight back. Trial attorneys across the country eventually found evidence of corporate programs aimed at terminating seniors’ benefits, and helped stop these deplorable practices.
Unfortunately, while litigation has revealed incidences of abuse and neglect, many other offenses never see the light of day due to nursing homes inserting forced arbitration clauses in the fine print of lengthy admission contracts. Residents and their families often sign these contracts while under considerable stress and anxiety without realizing they are being stripped of their access to court. Congress has introduced legislation to ban forced arbitration in nursing home and other consumer contracts.
The report, titled “Standing up For Seniors: How the Civil Justice System Protects Elderly Americans,” can be found at www.justice.org/seniors.
The Medicare website maintained by the U.S. government reports that of the 212 nursing homes in Colorado, over 70 of them earn a rating of only one or two stars out of five for overall care. Ratings are also broken down for Health Inspections, Nursing Home Staff and Quality Measures. To review the ratings, visit medicare.gov.