Last fall, Hurricane Irma tore through Florida and left destruction in its wake. During its rampage, Irma knocked out power to a nursing home in Hollywood, just north of Miami. As temperatures rose, the nursing home staff put off evacuating its residents until it was too late.
As a result, 12 nursing home residents died.
Unfortunately, in Florida, the powerful nursing home lobby has restricted the rights of residents and their families. It’s incredibly difficult in the state to take a nursing home to court for abuse and neglect.
Instead, you have to go through arbitration – which significantly favors the nursing home. And if you somehow manage to receive a favorable ruling and get an award, there’s a hard limit to how much you can collect.
The tragedy in that Hollywood nursing home has led to a push in Florida to have a “nursing home bill of rights” for nursing home residents that would protect their access to the courts and ensure they’re treated fairly and responsibly.
Should Alabama do the same?
Nursing homes want to limit their legal liability, and that means keeping you out of the courts. They favor arbitration because the odds are stacked in their favor. What that means is they want to be able to do whatever they want and avoid as much of the responsibility for it as possible.
If you think it’s not a problem in Alabama, think again. Last fall, TIME magazine told the horrifying story of an elderly nun who was raped at a nursing home here in Alabama.
The arbitrator – just one person, one decider – ruled against the victim because “I did not hear the emotion…that I would expect to hear from someone describing being sexually assaulted,” even in direct contradiction to the physical evidence.
Is that acceptable for your loved ones? Absolutely not – and yet it happens because we don’t force our elected representatives to watch out for our best interests instead of the nursing home industry.
It has already gotten worse: the Trump administration has already lessened the fines that can be levied against a nursing home for negligence and abuse.
The administration is also rewriting a rule that keeps nursing homes from demanding arbitration – effectively allowing nursing homes to take away your right to sue.
If something horrible happens to one of our loved ones in the care of a nursing home, we want justice – and not to be ignored or denied. Yet, in Alabama, the law is on the side of the powerful nursing home industry, which makes fighting them difficult.
A nursing home bill of rights in our state would help to ensure access to the courts, keep damages and compensation from being capped, and make it easier for justice to be found in the event of negligence, recklessness, and abuse.
It would send a powerful message to the industry that they can’t just do whatever they want without repercussions – that we will protect our innocent loved ones, no matter what.
It’s too late for the elderly nun in Alabama, or those 12 victims in Florida who perished due to neglect.
But it may not be too late for the 23,000 residents in Alabama nursing homes. And it may not be too late for your loved one – if we act now.
Tell your state representatives and senators you want protection for nursing home residents and their families and won’t take no for an answer.