As our country navigates its way through the coronavirus pandemic, it is clear that nursing home patients make up one of our most vulnerable populations. Consequently, it is important that nursing homes be vigilant in the care of their patients, and strictly adhere to proper treatment protocols and standards. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.
The New York Times has recently published an article about wrongful patient discharges and evictions from nursing homes, sometimes referred to as “patient dumping.” The article was published on June 21 and highlights the evictions of patients from nursing homes, whose medical bills and expenses are paid by Medicaid, to homeless shelters and unsafe locations. In some cases, no advance notice is given to the patients or their families. “We’re dealing with unsafe discharges, whether it be to a homeless shelter or to unlicensed facilities, on a daily basis, and COVID-19 has made this all more urgent,” Molly Davies, the Los Angeles ombudsman, whose office works with residents at about 400 nursing homes, told The Times.
Patient dumping isn’t a new problem for nursing home residents, but the pandemic is increasing the frequency with which it’s occurring, in part due to a profit incentive for the nursing homes. Nursing homes are eligible to receive an additional $600 per day when they take in COVID patients. This incentive has created an enormous displacement of patients who are not COVID positive, and drawn criticism from healthcare workers, families, and patient advocates against nursing homes. Their concerns are not only that some long-term care patients are wrongfully evicted from what has become their home where they require around the clock care, but also that patient exposure to the deadly virus further endangers the already vulnerable long-term residents. The problem is compounded by the increased isolation of nursing home residents during the pandemic. A federal ban was placed on nursing home visits in March. The lack of families and visitors to the facilities precludes transparency in operation, and allows for concealment of any wrongdoing that may be occurring.
Unfortunately, while there are requirements for discharge, not all nursing homes follow them as they should. While patients can legally be discharged or evicted for a range of reasons, such as inability to make payments or no longer requiring care, facilities have to meet specific criteria before they can transfer patients out of the home. Facilities must:
- Prepare a summary of the resident’s mental and physical health
- Prepare a discharge plan which must include alternative arrangements for care and housing
- Give at least 30 days advance notice to the patients and/or families
- Give notice to the State Ombudsman’s Office to trigger its oversight
It is important to note that patients and their families have the right to appeal a transfer or discharge. In some cases, however, it has been discovered that facilities may pressure residents to leave, especially those in extremely poor health and/or without family support. Under duress, these patients do not and cannot fight the discharge. The good news is there are advocates taking steps to protect nursing home patients during this time. The AARP has asked Congress to bar all long-term care facilities from discharging patients due to the inability to pay during the pandemic, and has requested that Congress require facilities to report transfer and discharge data. If you or someone you love is facing an unwarranted discharge or eviction from a nursing home, you can contact any of the organizations below. Also, at Stark & Stark, our attorneys in the Nursing Home Group can assist you with nursing home malpractice claims. Please contact us with any questions.