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Powerful Opposition to WI Nursing Home Law Change

April 15, 2010

MADISON, Wis. - A proposed law to remove arbitration clauses from nursing home admissions paperwork is on track for another public hearing in the near future. An arbitration clause says any legal action brought by a patient or family member against the nursing home goes directly to arbitration, and not to trial in a court.

The bill faces powerful opposition from 11 nursing home corporations and insurance companies, which say the clause is vital to controlling the cost of care. But Stevens Point attorney Jason Studinski disagrees.

"These clauses prohibit senior citizens from bringing their claims in court to be heard by the community."

One of Studinski's clients, David Kurth of Burlington, tried to sue a nursing home after his father died of untreated pressure ulcers, dehydration, and malnutrition. He says his mother was hurried through the process of admitting her husband, and had to sign more than 50 pieces of paperwork before they'd admit him.

Kurth says the arbitration clauses in these contracts are not in the best interest of the consumer.

"Why would they want to sign away their ability to go to court for being harmed by negligence, before it ever happens?"

Attorney Studinski says all Americans have a right to justice by a jury, but that right is undermined by arbitration clauses. He calls it a "David and Goliath" situation, with giant corporations on one side, and common citizens on the other.

Kurth says the death of his father, an Army veteran and volunteer firefighter, was a tragedy. He says patients in nursing homes and their families have to be able to hold the staff accountable to do the job they promised to do when the patient was admitted.

He says Wisconsin people often don't like to make waves, and in the case of admitting a loved one to a nursing home, that can work against you: You have to ask hard questions.

"You know, we don't want them to think bad of us or make things difficult because we're making noise. Well, that doesn't work. It absolutely didn't work for my father and for my mother."

Studinski says before placing a loved on in a nursing home, a family should investigate the home's record of caring for patients and request the admissions packet in advance. He urges family members to be actively involved.

"They should have loved ones with the nursing home resident at the actual admissions conference, to protect against signing any document that contains an arbitration clause."

The opposition to removing arbitration clauses says that without them costs will escalate dramatically. Studinski and Kurth say cost-cutting measures have lowered standards of care, and no one should be forced to sign away the right to justice if a loved one is injured or dies in a nursing home because of neglect or mistreatment.

More information is available from the Wisconsin Association for Justice at
www.wisjustice.org

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI