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Improper Nursing Home Evictions Put Elderly at Risk

Aug 7, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP In an attempt to save money, nursing homes all over the country are evicting their most vulnerable residents.  According to The Wall Street Journal, formal complaints about nursing-home discharge practices have doubled over the past decade, making it the second biggest category of nursing home abuse complaints after those concerning unanswered calls for help.

Federal law does allow nursing homes to evict residents in some circumstances, but many elderly advocates say that the homes take advantage, and use evictions to get rid of their most expensive patients.  For that reason, residents with dementia, those who have demanding families, and especially those whose bills are paid by Medicaid are most likely to be turned out of nursing homes. According to The Wall Street Journal, patients on Medicaid  bring in only half the revenue of those utilizing private insurance or Medicare.

State officials, who are responsible for enforcing federal nursing home laws, have noticed an upswing in the number of evictions in recent years.  According to The Wall Street Journal, there were 8,600 eviction complaints in 2006.  Iowa officials told the Journal that  involuntary discharges there have risen even as the number of nursing-home beds has declined. In the District of Columbia, officials contest roughly one in seven evictions as improper, and say still more go unchallenged. And many state officials said that evictions may be even more widespread, since some eviction attempts are resolved without formal complaints. Residents may not know they can appeal or may be too ill to do so or fear retribution.

Federal law says nursing home residents can be discharged involuntarily for just six reasons: if they are well enough to go home; need care only available elsewhere; endanger the health of others; endanger the safety of others; fail to pay their bills; or if a facility closes its doors.  But according to a recent review of admission agreements at Missouri nursing homes the National Senior Citizens Law Center, nearly one in five nursing homes granted itself the right to evict residents without cause. Almost half the agreements authorized eviction for residents who become "uncooperative and unmanageable," "unduly noisy," "objectionably untidy" or for other reasons not permitted under federal law.

When they do evict residents, nursing homes are required to give them 30 days' notice, explain their appeal rights, and put together a plan to make sure the move doesn't harm them.  In practice, this rarely happens.  More liking, the facilities employ a practice that has become known as a "nursing home dump" where they transfer an undesirable resident to another nursing home or send them to a hospital or psychiatric facility for treatment and observation, and then refuse to take them back.

Unfortunately, nursing home evictions - proper or not - carry serious consequences for the residents who must endure them.  According to The Wall Street Journal, studies suggest "transfer trauma," or relocation-stress syndrome, can spur depression and weight loss and increase the risk of falls.


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