The federal Department of Health and Human Services took a huge step forward in the fight against elder abuse last week, issuing new rules that improve consumer protections for almost 1.5 million Americans in nursing homes. The changes are a response to many years of advocacy and represent a seismic shift in public policy regarding the care and safety of institutionalized older adults.

Up to this point, many nursing homes required residents to sign documents forbidding any legal complaints from being filed in a court of law – even when the complaints involved serious claims of elder abuse, sexual harassment, or wrongful death. “Forced arbitration,” as the practice was called, meant that any complaints would have to be brought before a secret panel and reviewed behind closed doors, sometimes in the offices of the facility’s own lawyers, and with limited options for appealing the decisions. Critics have long condemned forced arbitration as a “parallel system of justice” that protected the nursing-home industry by keeping wrongdoing and bad practices out of the public eye.

On Wednesday, September 28th, 2016, government spokespersons announced that any nursing home receiving funding through Medicare or Medicaid would be barred from forcing residents to sign advance arbitration agreements of this type.

Brookdale applauds this move on the part of the Obama administration. Officials in 16 states and the District of Columbia had previously requested a ban on the use of arbitration clauses in nursing homes. The new ruling represents a victory for nursing home residents and their families and is an important step in what needs to be a broad national effort to secure the legal rights and dignity of Americans in long-term care.


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