The Boston Herald recently uncovered a disturbing trend with Massachusetts seniors entering nursing homes: a “hidden” practice of signing away their rights to sue facilities in the event of neglect or bad medical care.
Seniors are being urged to sign contracts that allow arbitrators to handle disputes; but these seniors don’t realize that they are signing away their right to bring cases that might involve neglect and abuse before a judge and jury.
In the article, Marlene Owens of South Easton, MA, who challenged an arbitration agreement signed by her elderly stepfather in 2003, is quoted as saying, “It gives the nursing home carte blanche to abuse these elderly people because they won’t have to answer to it.”
When a loved one is admitted to a nursing facility, it can be emotional and the paperwork can be overwhelming. The arbitration agreements may be buried in admission packages and easily overlooked. “Most people don’t see it,” said Boston attorney Rebecca Benson. Some seniors may think they have no choice but to sign the agreement.
But U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Newton) is supporting legislation that would ban these agreements in nursing homes. Although Frank agrees that arbitration can be a good way to handle disputes, he thinks it should be a choice. He is quoted as saying, “You shouldn’t have to sign one in advance in these one-sided contracts.”