Ruthie’s Law was designed to protect seniors living in nursing homes and to provide local government with more oversight power in Erie County, New York. Yet some nursing home facilities in the county have resisted the law. Erie County officials are considering greater use of civil penalties to encourage compliance and to keep seniors safe.
What Is Ruthie’s Law?
Ruthie’s Law is named after Ruth Murray, a senior who died from physical elder abuse at an Erie County nursing home. The law was designed to keep seniors safe and to alert their loved ones when they need serious medical care.
Under Ruthie’s Law, nursing homes in Erie County must contact a family member or a guardian within an hour if an elderly resident receives an injury that requires hospitalization.
Ruthie’s Law also gives the local Erie County government significant power to ensure enforcement. The county commissioner of senior services can review nursing home injury reports and issue subpoenas if a nursing facility has not provided enough information about particular incidents.
Nursing homes also must provide detailed reports to the Department of Senior Services (DSS) twice every twelve months on cases that result in severe injury or death. Nursing homes that refuse to comply can be hit with civil penalties such as a $2,000 fine.
In addition, nursing homes are supposed to share their inspection ratings with prospective residents.
Ideally, the law makes it harder for nursing home facilities in Erie County to go unpunished if residents suffer severe abuse or neglect. It also gives those looking into nursing home care a better idea about the quality of a nursing home.
Yet not every nursing home in Erie County agrees with the law, and are taking actions to stop it.
Erie County Nursing Homes Are Not Complying
Since Ruthie’s law went into effect in July 2017, several Erie County nursing homes have refused to comply with the law.
For example, Erie County officials need to have access to internal reports from individual nursing homes to see which ones have higher rates of resident injuries or deaths. Yet only 18 of the county’s 35 nursing homes have provided these reports.
A few of the non-compliant nursing homes are taking matters even further. In February 2020, a group of nursing homes filed a lawsuit against Erie County officials, claiming that Ruthie’s Law is illegal and cannot be enforced.
These nursing homes argue that they already are legally required to report nursing home abuse to the New York State Department of Health.
However, there is evidence that compliance is improving in the county over time.
In the fall of 2019, compliance rates in the county stood at 40 percent. Within six months, that number had already improved to 50 percent.
How Officials Are Helping to Prevent Nursing Home Abuse
Erie County has been working to curb the issue of nursing home abuse through stronger enforcement of Ruthie’s Law in spite of the pushback.
It is likely that local government officials will use civil penalties and other powers to encourage the remaining nursing facilities to comply with the county law.
Yet this issue does not just stop at Erie county. All across America, families are having trouble communicating with nursing homes, and governments are struggling to handle oversight of the nursing home industry.
When nursing homes are not properly regulated, the health of seniors is at risk. That is why more counties are following the lead of Erie County to oversee more nursing homes.
As long as seniors are still in danger, governments and families must keep fighting for tighter nursing home abuse laws.