Nursing home resident’s rights are often compromised upon admission to the facility.  Why?  Because nursing homes often require unsuspecting residents to sign arbitration agreements — agreements that extinguish the right to trial by jury if the resident suffers neglect or abuse.

Placing a loved one in a nursing home is one of life’s most stressful events.  The stress is compounded by the blizzard of paperwork thrown at the family during this difficult time.  Admission agreement, responsible party agreement, guarantor agreement, assignment of benefits, resident personal account, medical release, notice of privacy practices — these are just a few of the dozens of documents that residents (or a family member, acting as the resident’s representative) are required to sign upon admission.

Sometimes hidden in this mountain of documents is an arbitration agreement.  The arbitration agreement may contain technical, legal language, and it may not be adequately explained to the resident and her family.  Rather, it may be “just another document we need to you sign” near the bottom of a pile of documents.  Specifically, the arbitration agreement that limits a nursing home resident’s rights may contain language like this:

“We do not expect that you will be dissatisfied with any of the services provided to you during your stay.  However, no matter how much effort each of us puts into our new relationship, there is always a possibility that a dispute may arise between us for a variety of reasons.  Historically, when differences have arisen between a resident and a facility that were unable to be resolved informally, a lawsuit may have been filed in state court.  Needless to say, formal litigation involving the state court system has proven to be an exhaustive and time consuming venture for all parties.  Through a voluntary arbitration program entered into via the arbitration agreement, we are offering a less formal manner to reach a final determination.  The program is designed to resolve residency related disputes in a more efficient manner than claims brought in state court.”

Nowhere does this language mention that the resident is giving up her right to a jury trial if she suffers neglect or abuse.  In many cases, the resident and his family do not realize that the nursing home resident’s rights have been taken away until after a fall, an infection caused by an untreated decubitus ulcer, severe dehydration and malnutrition, or some other failure of care resulting in severe injury or death.

If you are faced with placing a loved one in a nursing home, we encourage you to carefully review all documents presented at admission.  And, please remember that there is no legal requirement to sign an arbitration agreement in order to be admitted to a nursing home.  More importantly, there is no practical reason to sign such an agreement because the resident gets nothing in return for giving her up her right to file a lawsuit in the event of neglect or abuse.