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AARP Urges New York Court to Uphold State Protections for Aging in Place

An AARP brief asks that a state appeals court hold nursing facilities to the letter and spirit of state law protecting against unwanted institutionalization.

Background

Virginia Bennett was transferred to St. John’s Home nursing facility in Rochester, NY for physical therapy after her three-day hospitalization in July 2007. She completed that therapy in August 2007 and her husband then asked that she be discharged to their home. Ms. Bennett received home health care assistance from her husband for many years prior to her hospitalization.

In subsequent litigation, Mr. Bennett claims the nursing facility refused to discharge her on the grounds that she required ”24-hour care” at home. Mr. Bennett further claims that he agreed to be trained on how to care for his wife, but was not provided training. However, the facility refused to accept Mr. Bennett as a part-time caregiver for Mrs. Bennett, for reasons never clearly explained. As a result, the facility refused to discharge her to anything other than in-person care from a home health agency twenty-four hours a day. At the time, no agencies were willing to provide this level of care.

After some months of prolonged institutionalization, Mr. Bennett eventually located a home health care agency willing to provide 24 hour home care services and she was discharged from St. John’s in October 2007. About one year later, she was rehospitalized, admitted to a different nursing facility, and ultimately transported to hospice care where she passed away.

Bennett’s suit against St. John’s argued that the facility had violated his wife’s rights to independent personal decisions and available choices, a right granted under state law in New York. A trial court dismissed the case and Bennett appealed.

AARP Foundation Litigation attorneys filed AARP’s friend-of-the-court brief in the case supporting Bennett’s claims. The brief points out that the risk of becoming “stuck” in a nursing facility is particularly high in New York, where according to one study less than 7 percent of nursing facility residents with stays of 90 days or more ever return to the community — a rate that places New York 42nd in the nation. Moreover, the state is at the bottom of national statistics (ranking 48th ) in length of stays lasting 100 days or more. The chronic understaffing at many of New York’s nursing facilities means that patients are more likely to receive individual care at home than they are in a nursing facility.

AARP’s brief details the legislative history of the New York law safeguarding the right to age in place, and the myriad programs designed to assist individuals with living outside of institutions. The brief also highlights academic studies that demonstrate better outcomes for people who remain in familiar settings surrounded by familiar people, as opposed to those receiving care in an institutional setting.

What’s at Stake

Protecting a person’s ability and right to age in place is a major concern for older Americans. Unnecessary impediments to leaving a nursing facility for a community-based setting contribute to excessive hospitalization, a downward spiral in the quality of a person’s life, and exorbitant costs to both individuals and government health care programs. Federal and state laws and policies clearly support an individual’s right to choose a home or community based long-term care setting as an alternative to institutionalization.

Case Status

Bennett v. St. John’s Home is before the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court, Fourth Department.