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Nursing Homes Control Patients Who Don't Pay

Published on: Jan 27 2015

A nursing home has options if you are admitted to residence and can’t pay your bills or dispute some of them. The nursing home has the option of going to court and seeking guardianship over the resident. In New York especially the law is written to make it easy for nursing homes to be appointed guardians and then withdraw money from the resident’s financial accounts, as this New York Times article shows.

Few people are aware that a nursing home can take such a step. Guardianship cases are difficult to gain access to and poorly tracked by New York State courts; cases are often closed from public view for confidentiality. But the Palermo case is no aberration. Interviews with veterans of the system and a review of guardianship court data conducted by researchers at Hunter College at the request of The New York Times show the practice has become routine, underscoring the growing power nursing homes wield over residents and families amid changes in the financing of long-term care.

In a random, anonymized sample of 700 guardianship cases filed in Manhattan over a decade, Hunter College researchers found more than 12 percent were brought by nursing homes. Some of these may have been prompted by family feuds, suspected embezzlement or just the absence of relatives to help secure Medicaid coverage. But lawyers and others versed in the guardianship process agree that nursing homes primarily use such petitions as a means of bill collection — a purpose never intended by the Legislature when it enacted the guardianship statute in 1993.

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