Admitting a loved one into a nursing home, or being admitted yourself, can be an overwhelming process. Every individual deserves to be treated with respect and care when entering these facilities. When entering a nursing home, you may be asked to fill out a procedural form called a “Pre-Dispute Arbitration Agreement.” This agreement essentially takes away your right to hold a nursing home accountable in court, for any and all potential negligence or wrongdoing. “Pre-dispute” arbitration agreements require giving up this right before neglectful actions even take place. Therefore, you will never have the chance or opportunity to determine whether court is necessary or not should something happen to you.
It’s important to keep in mind that you do not have to sign this agreement when entering a nursing home. It’s also important to understand what a “dispute” actually is. According to the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care, a “dispute” includes any event in which you are harmed. Remember, once an arbitration agreement is signed, you may not be able to bring a lawsuit against a nursing home for any wrongdoing.
Examples of “disputes” include:
- Receiving the wrong medication or dosage;
- Developing bedsores/pressure ulcers as the result of neglect;
- Suffering any injury that results from neglect, including falls and broken bones;
- Having money or belongings stolen;
- Being physically abused or assaulted by a fellow resident or staff member; and
- Being sexually assaulted by a fellow resident or staff member.
Reasons Not to Sign the Agreement
There are many reasons why you shouldn’t sign the arbitration agreement, and very few reasons, if any, why you should.
Here are just a few of the reasons why pre-dispute arbitration does not benefit residents according to National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care:
- You may not be able to hold a nursing facility responsible for their wrongdoing.
- A private arbitrator, instead of a judge, decides the outcome of a dispute.
- There is no jury.
- Arbitration does not have to follow the rules of evidence and can introduce hearsay evidence against the resident.
- Decisions are always final, barring extraordinary circumstances, so you cannot appeal a decision you disagree with.
- Decisions are almost always confidential, so that the facility’s record of wrongdoing remains secret.
- Arbitration is a business. Arbitrators have a financial incentive to find for the nursing home in the hope that the nursing home will give the arbitrator more business in the future. This puts residents at a huge disadvantage.
- Arbitration can be far more expensive for a resident than a lawsuit in court.
When you enter a nursing home, the Pre-Dispute Arbitration Agreement could be buried within your admission contract, or it might be a separate form. Federal regulations provide a multitude of rights that protect you when confronted with an agreement:
- You simply have the right to refuse to sign.
- A nursing home cannot deny you admission or discharge you because you do not sign an arbitration agreement.
- If you signed an arbitration agreement, you must be allowed to undo the agreement within 30 days.
You should never feel pressure to sign the agreement. If you believe arbitration is necessary at a later time, you can always decide to seek it later.