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Nursing Home Admission: Know Your Rights

March 13, 2012

MILWAUKEE - Admitting a loved one to a nursing home can be a traumatic experience, and too often people sign away their rights when they sign the admission papers. Milwaukee attorney Jeff Pitman says too many people don't know what they're signing.

"People are not told that they're signing arbitration agreements that waive constitutional rights and waive their right to sue the nursing home. They are not told that, 'If we drop your loved one and they break a hip and they die, that you can't sue us.'"

Pitman says people seldom have time to research, pick, and choose a nursing home.

"A lot of times when somebody's being admitted to a nursing home, it's not a nursing home of their choice, it's not like they were given, 'Here you go, you got five different places to go to.' It's, 'You're going to get discharged from the hospital tomorrow and you can't go home, and we're going to try to find a bed for you at a nursing home.' And a lot of times, where they go is the only place where there's a bed available."

Pitman says you do not have to sign an arbitration agreement, and the nursing home can't refuse to admit your loved one if you don't sign such an agreement.

Pitman says you're giving up your rights if you sign the arbitration agreement.

"Oh, absolutely. I mean the biggest one is that you're giving up your right, your constitutional right to a jury trial, and you're giving up all of the rights that you would have under Wisconsin's Civil Procedure law."

Pitman says it can be confusing, because the admission experience can be intimidating.

"You're given these documents and it's like, 'Sign here, sign here, sign here,' and everybody's afraid, like what if they couldn't get admitted here, where are they going to go? What am I going to do? And so they really feel as if they have no power."

Pitman says that each year approximately 35,000 nursing-home residents nationwide suffer unnecessary and avoidable pain because of negligence.

He says you need to know your rights before you are faced with the situation of putting a loved one into a nursing home.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI