Millions of nursing home residents in Kentucky and around the country could have more legal remedies available to them in June. That is when the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hand down a decision in a case filed by the family of an Indiana man over alleged violations of the Federal Nursing Home Reform Act. The case found its way to the nation’s highest court after an Indiana district court ruled that private parties cannot file lawsuits to enforce the FNHRA.
Civil rights violations
The family claims in their lawsuit that a state-run long-term care facility violated the FNHRA and their elderly relative’s civil rights by using chemical restraints, administering psychotropic drugs and moving him to a dementia facility against his will. Instead of denying the allegations, the facility filed a motion to dismiss the case based on the argument that only the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services can enforce the FNHRA.
The Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in the case to clarify the scope of a federal law called Section 1983, which gives individuals the right to sue state employees and those under the direction of state employees for civil rights violations like nursing home neglect. The justices heard oral arguments in November 2022. Several advocacy groups including the AARP have filed amicus briefs on behalf of the family.
Protecting the vulnerable
Constitutional rights lose their meaning if they do not protect the most vulnerable members of society. Nursing home abuse and neglect are serious and ongoing problems, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services lack the resources needed to tackle them. If the Supreme Court rules that this Section 1983 lawsuit can proceed, families and patients may be granted the opportunity to hold long-term care facilities responsible for the harm they cause.