The time has come. Your aging parent can no longer be cared for at home, and you have carefully researched nursing home facilities to find the one you feel can take the best care of them. You are sitting next to each other on the opposite side of the Admission Coordinator’s desk. She has been very helpful, and the facility appears neat and clean with well-cared-for residents. Even so, a flood of conflicting emotions runs through you, and you sense your parent’s unease and nervousness. The coordinator pushes a multi-page admission agreement across the table. “All we need is your signature to make the arrangements.” You can’t concentrate enough to read all the provisions, let alone understand it all, but you want desperately to get this over with. Here’s why you shouldn’t.
What does it mean when you or your parent signs those nursing home agreements? If you don’t thoroughly understand the provisions you’re agreeing to, you and your parent could be signing away significant rights.
Consider the question of financial responsibility. If you are signing the paperwork, you could inadvertently be agreeing to be personally responsible for care costs should your parent be unable to pay. Terms such as “co-signer guarantor” or signing as the “responsible party” are clear red flags. Be clear the only resources to be used are those belonging to your parent and cross out terms and language to the contrary.
Another area to be alert to is the inclusion of an arbitration provision. Originally conceived to resolve disputes between businesses, the use of arbitration has greatly expanded to the broader consumer area, even to alleged incidents of nursing home abuse and neglect. Essentially, agreeing to arbitration means you or your parent are giving up the right to have your claims of abuse and neglect heard and determined by a jury. Instead, a third-party arbitrator, who was pre-selected by the nursing home, will determine the outcome of your claims regardless of the circumstances or severity of the abuse or neglect. While arbitration has been touted as a more efficient method of resolving disputes, it carries many risks for the patient or resident of the nursing home:
- In many cases, the patient or family is required to pay a share of the arbitrator’s fee, which could be hundreds of dollars an hour.
- Arbitration is not public and is often protected by confidentiality rules. Without a public record, valuable data that could help develop better industry practices and legal oversight is never considered.
- The arbitration process varies, and in most circumstances you will not be able to appeal an arbitration decision.
- As arbitrators are engaged by the nursing home, they may not be truly neutral third parties.
So, what can you do when you or your parent are faced with that intimidating stack of paperwork? First, and most importantly, don’t let yourself feel pressured or rushed. Know exactly what you’re signing and take the time you both need to carefully read each and every provision. If you can, wait until after your parent has moved in, so the nursing home is more invested in working with you. Ask to delete any provisions you don’t agree with. If you’re told those provisions are mandatory and a condition of admission, request additional time to review before making a final decision. If at all possible, contact an attorney to review the paperwork before signing.
If you already have a loved one in a nursing home and suspect abuse or neglect, don’t wait to contact an experienced attorney who can help you determine your rights and next steps whether it’s litigation or arbitration.