Seniors who must go into a nursing home, or who are helping a loved one who must do so, should be careful about the agreements they sign.
If you’re helping a loved one — an aging parent, say, or a sibling — watch out for a “responsible party” clause. A nursing home representative who asks you to sign such a clause isn’t looking for a contact person. Instead, you are being asked to become personally liable for paying the bills. The responsible party clause may not spell that out — the harsh reality may be buried in a definition later in the contract.
A binding arbitration clause should also raise a red flag. Anyone who signs such a clause gives up their right to sue the nursing home in the event of any sort of abuse or neglect — and such things happen. You will have no right to a judge and jury to hear your complaint if you sign, nor any right of appeal. Ordinary legal procedures, such as the right of discovery of evidence that might be in the possession of the nursing home, will not be available.
Your case will be heard in private by an arbitrator who must be paid, and the entire process may be more expensive than a court proceeding. Since the arbitrator will have an interest in doing repeat business with the nursing home, the process will could well be stacked against you from the outset.
ElderLawAnswers advises that if you encounter responsible party and binding arbitration clauses, cross them out. Several sources say that you can’t be denied admission for refusing to sign — so don’t be pressured.
Binding arbitration clauses are also turning up in continuing care retirement community agreements, so watch out for them there as well. Things can go wrong in CCRCs, however pleasant they may seem. Promised services might be taken away, for example, or maintenance might be neglected. You’ll want to have the right to sue in your back pocket.
Your best course of action, whether you’re considering a nursing home or a CCRC, will be to have an attorney review all agreements before you sign.