…if this bill passes. It would inevitably make arbitration the rule in all nursing home negligence cases.
The realization that your Mom or Dad, or Grandmother or Grandfather, cannot live on their own anymore, that they need the support a nursing home can provide, is a painful one. It is hard to admit that your loved one is no longer able to care for themselves, and that you are unable to provide that care for them at home. For that reason, it is often the case that the decision to place a loved one in a nursing home happens well past when it should.
When you finally reach that point, and you go to the home, they have the flowers out, ice cream socials going, people playing the piano. Then you go into an office and you or your parent or grandparent, who is about to cease being your relative and become a patient, has to fill out a sheaf of paper by signing their name over and over.
Buried in that stack will be one that says “Arbitration Agreement”, and what it means to you is that no matter what they do, you cannot seek justice in a court.
What it means to them is cost containment. It means that the costs of not doing their job, of causing early death of your relative, just went way down.
To avoid them in your relative, all that has to happen is to turn them from one side to the other every four hours. We do this on our own while we sleep, but older people often can’t (this is often the reason they go to a nursing home). The nursing home industry is labor intensive. Many people are required to give the care needed. But what if the nursing home could get away with far fewer staff? They’d still get paid the same, because reimbursement rates are not set in or by Georgia.
There’d be fewer people to help the patient move around, but they’d probably not fall. People would get turned less often, and maybe they’d develop bedsores, but it is unlikely anyone would find out (because many patients have difficulty communicating), and if they did, the nursing home would have to face not a judge, but a friendly arbitrator, selected by the nursing home industry, guaranteed to give the operator a shake that’s more than fair.
Arbitration, for those who haven’t done it, is often focused purely on economic factors. What did you pay for the service, what income did you lose because of the service failure, how much would it have cost to prevent the failure, etc.
Arbitration sometimes works fine. The problem is when economic damages don’t tell the whole story. Like when an older relative develops a bedsore because staffing levels have dropped. They don’t have a job. There are no economic damages. They’ll be lucky to get their money back.
And because it is the more inexpensive option for the nursing home, there is no incentive for nursing homes to provide better care. It is the correct business decision. And so if arbitration is allowed, and good luck finding a nursing home that will take your relative without it, there will be no economic incentive to do anything other than keep your relative alive, and at some point, not even that.
When it is cheaper to pay the grieving family an arbitrator’s award than it is to fix the problem, the problem will continue. Treating the elderly with care, treating your parent or grandparent like you would treat them if you could, should be the rule and not the exception. But if this bill passes, it will become the more expensive and, to the provider, unnecessary option.
So perhaps you’ll be visiting your parents in Florida after all.