The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
Contact: Phone: (202) 588-1000

Nursing Home Industry Launches Campaign of Deception to Derail Protections for Elderly Residents

More Than 100 Public Interest Organizations Support the Legislation;


On the eve of a key U.S. Senate committee vote on legislation to
help protect residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities
from abuse and neglect, the nursing home industry has launched a
campaign of deception about the legislation.

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to mark up S.
2838, the Fairness in Nursing Home Arbitration Act, sponsored by Sens.
Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) and Herbert Kohl (D-Wis.). The bill would make
pre-dispute binding mandatory arbitration provisions unenforceable in
nursing home contracts. The House Judiciary Committee approved the
measure in July.

Buried in the fine print of admissions contracts, these arbitration
clauses strip elderly residents and their families of the right to take
nursing homes to court in cases of abuse or neglect - a critical tool
in prompting nursing homes to take better care of residents. Instead,
any disputes must be brought in a private, expensive, secretive forum
chosen by the nursing home, giving the arbitration firm an incentive to
favor the nursing home company that brings it business. A 2007 Public
Citizen study of 34,000 credit card arbitration cases showed that
businesses won 94.7 percent of cases against consumers.

Most people are unaware of arbitration provisions in the fine print
of nursing-home admissions documents and do not understand them. The
clauses also are typically non-negotiable. For these reasons,
businesses can use arbitration "agreements" to immunize themselves from
accountability in court for their wrongdoing.

On Wednesday, a group led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wrote a letter opposing the legislation to
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Judiciary Committee chairman, and Sen.
Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), ranking member of the committee. The letter is
remarkable in the extent of its deception.

The authors claim to be a "diverse coalition of senior, caregiver,
taxpayer, and business advocacy organizations" and claim they wish to
protect consumers. But nearly all those listed as signers are business
and professional associations whose goals are to maximize profits and
limit corporate accountability for wrongdoing. The groups also
misrepresent what the legislation would do. They erroneously claim that
the Fairness in Nursing Home Arbitration Act would "eliminate or
significantly limit the use of arbitration." In fact, the bill would
actually allow consumers to choose whether to go to arbitration or
court to resolve disputes, meaning that businesses couldn't force
people into unfair arbitrations.

A truly broad coalition of groups that advocate on behalf of consumers, senior citizens and employees also sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee
on Wednesday, urging support for the bill. More than 100 organizations
from 30 states, including Public Citizen, signed on to the letter to
support protecting the rights of nursing home residents and their

"It's appalling that the nursing home industry is fighting against
senior citizens under the banner of consumer protection," said David
Arkush, director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch division. "But the
level of dishonesty reflects the disgrace in their position. It
wouldn't work if they told the truth and said, 'We corporate lobbyists
oppose this bill because our multimillion-dollar corporate clients want
immunity when they abuse or neglect some of America's most vulnerable
citizens.' If arbitration is good for consumers, then they will choose
it. There is no justification for forcing it on people."

Commonly reported nursing home injuries include pressure sores that
lead to infection and amputation of limbs, suffocation on bedrails and
other restraining device, physical and sexual assault, renal failure
from dehydration, malnutrition, and death from fires in buildings
lacking sprinkler systems. According to a 2007 report by the Government
Accountability Office, almost half of states cited more than 20 percent
of their nursing homes for serious deficiencies in 2006; six states
cited 30 percent or more for dangerous conditions or harming residents.

Learn more about binding mandatory arbitration and related congressional legislation.

Public Citizen is a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization that champions the public interest in the halls of power. We defend democracy, resist corporate power and work to ensure that government works for the people - not for big corporations. Founded in 1971, we now have 500,000 members and supporters throughout the country.

(202) 588-1000