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Opening Arguments

Nursing grudges

An Associated Press story notes that "in 1987, Congress enacted the Nursing Home Reform Law to address evidence of widespread abuse of nursing home patients. The states followed suit . . ." Those observations are followed by this curious passage:

But the emphasis on patient rights led some nursing homes to think they outweighed everything else.

"We were taught that residents' rights were paramount," said Janet McSharar, who specializes in long-term care issues and represented the nursing home where Chaney worked in Plainfield, an Indianapolis suburb of 23,000.

Shouldn't "residents rights" be paramount unless there is some obvious harm in neglecting something else for their benefit? The claim, now backed by a federal court ruling, is that racial discrimination is such a something else. Indiana is one of the states that lets nursing home residents have a broad say about their care, including the race of their caretakers. Brenda Chaney is a black caretaker who sued over a violation of her civil rights because some of the white patients specifically said they did not want black caretakers, and the nursing home honored the requests. Does denying such a wish interfere with the patient's well-being? Should we indulge people's racism right into the grave? How great is the comaprative harm to caretakers who can't take care of some people? We could argue this all day with no conclusion. The main worry of everyone involved should be whether what should be the primary focus is being lost. Sometimes I think it is, as in when a big deal is made of jurors' rights not be discriminated against to the point where it dilutes the focus on the rights of the accused. In this case, I'm not sure.

In the meantime, there is some doubt about how seriously we really take patients' rights in this state. According to an investigation by the Indianapolis Star, the attorney general is not exactly pursuing complaints against nursing homes with vigorous enthusaism -- a grand total of six complaints filed out of 300 reports forwarded to the office. As an editorial notes:

. . . a drop-off in disciplinary action . . . has coincided with plunging ratings as to the safety, comfort and dignity provided by those institutions over which the attorney general has jurisdiction. Real people have suffered real harm.