House Democrats to Trump Administration: Florida Nursing Home Tragedy Is a Wake-Up Call to Protect the Fundamental Rights of Residents Against Abuse

Oct 3, 2017

WASHINGTON – In the wake of disturbing reports of the neglect of nursing home residents in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, 46 members of Congress called on Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma to maintain current protections for elder Americans against abuse in nursing homes.

In Florida, 12 residents died and more than 100 were hospitalized after a long-term care facility failed to evacuate residents after losing air conditioning in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. In Texas, similar abuse occurred at a facility that refused to evacuate despite severe flooding. The letter is led by Representatives David N. Cicilline (RI-01), John Conyers, Jr. (MI-13), Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr. (GA-04), Jerrold Nadler (NY-10), Linda Sánchez (CA-38), and Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01).

They wrote: “The horrific reports of abuse at facilities in Florida and Texas in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Harvey underscore the need for your agency to reconsider upending the legal protections of those who have worked and saved for their entire lives to retire with dignity. This is a time when we should be protecting our nation’s seniors, not rolling back their fundamental right to hold wrongdoers accountable for neglect and abuse.”

Last year under the Obama Administration, CMS finalized a strong rule that prohibited the use of pre-dispute, mandatory (“forced”) arbitration clauses in nursing home admission agreements.

Nursing-home residents stand to lose virtually every cause of action against unscrupulous caregivers unless these current protections against forced arbitration in nursing-home admission contracts are preserved.

As the letter notes, following an extensive notice-and-comment rulemaking process, CMS determined that forced arbitration undermines the ability of health investigators to prevent and remedy abuse in nursing homes.

But under the Trump Administration, CMS has already begun the process to end this protection.

The letter follows a letter from House Democrats—including Representatives Johnson, Cicilline, Conyers, Nadler, and Sanchez—in 2015 that called on CMS to adopt these protections.

The group of House Democrats denounced plans by CMS Administrator Verma to roll back existing protections, writing “Americans in nursing homes deserve better. It is vital that residents and their families are able to enforce their rights and hold nursing home operators accountable for dangerous facility conditions and the inhumane treatment of residents. We strongly urge CMS to protect the health and safety of nursing home residents, particularly in light of recent events, by maintaining the current prohibition of forced arbitration clauses in nursing home admission contracts.”

A signed copy of the letter, as delivered, is available here.