Most states, including Illinois, have legal requirements regarding a set amount of “nursing hours” that each nursing home resident must receive on a daily basis at the facility. There are many different requirements regarding the specific-format of those hours. However, the underlying principle in all of the requirements is simple: there must be enough qualified staff members at the facility at all times to provide the level of care that the residents need. As we often explain, understaffing is at the root of so many instances of neglet that lead to serious injury or even wrongful death at these homes.
However, even though many states have these laws, they are often flagrantly violated. After all, it is somewhat difficult to monitor the detailed hourly work at individual facilties. Often, it is only after a serious event that causes injury occurs that these details are checked into. As a result, many residents are still allowed to suffer harm because the nursing requirements are not abided by and fail to actually prevent the harm before it occurs.
Suing for Violating Nursing Hours Requirements at Nursing Homes
For that reason some advocates are trying to be proactive and hold these facilties accountable for violating the requirements. Unfortunately, however, there are a range of legal complexities invovled with private citizens seeking to enforce public regulations. In most cases, that enforcement must come from the govenment itself.
Those legal details have been the centerpiece of some recent state litigation on the topic. Fortunately, resident- safety advocates have won a few legal victories. For example, SF Gate reported on how the state supreme court in California recently ruled that residents of the several facilities can sue a group of homes for violating those state nursing requirements. In particular, the plantiffs in the case allege that the owners of the home failed to meet the 3.2 hours of care per day requirement over a period of four years. The case includes allegations that the facilities were below that required mark at least 35% of the time for the four years beginning in December of 2006.
In earlier hearings, the defendant facilities argued that the law which set up the nursing staff requirements did not authorize private lawsuits. A trial level court agreed with the defendants. However, that ruling was reversed at the first appellate level with the three judge panel ruling unanimously that the residents were able to seek accountability. The ruling noted that the law allows nursing home residents “to bring actions themselves to remedy violations of their rights, [which included the] right to reside in an adequately staffed facility.” That reversal was itself appealed by the defendants to the state’s highest court. However, recently that court refused to hear the appeal. That means that the lower court ruling stands and the residents’ case will be able to proceed.
This matter is a big deal, because without private enforcement, it is unlikely that the spirit of the law will be respected. That is because, as in most states, the public departments charged with ensuring the law is followed do not have the resources to ensure compliance. The practical effect is nearly the same as if the law hadn’t been pass at all. Hopefully, however, with private enforcement nursing homes will actually be forced to abide by the law and ensure adequate resources are available to residents.
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