Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission, which convenes every 20 years to review proposed changes to the state’s constitution, is being asked to consider an introduction of a “Nursing Home Bill of Rights,” that would mandate the right of vulnerable residents to a safe, comfortable living environment. Proposal 88 also includes a provision that would guarantee residents’ access to courts and a jury system – a right that is often lost upon admission when residents are required to sign arbitration agreements.
This change could have a profound and lasting positive impact for the estimated 70,000 Florida nursing home residents, who are often frail, vulnerable and targets for abuse and exploitation. Arbitration agreements are generally disfavored by plaintiff attorneys because they strip patients of the right to have disputes resolved in a court of law by a jury. Arbitration takes away certain rights that are guaranteed through the court process, such as the right to discovery (the sharing of information about what allegedly occurred). Outcomes of arbitration in nursing home abuse cases also tend to be decided more favorably toward the nursing home, with fewer and lesser judgments for the plaintiffs. Finally, the process is secretive and confidential, meaning potential future patients don’t have the benefit of knowing what really took place and residents and families don’t have the right speak freely about problems with abuse and neglect at a given facility.
It’s worth noting there is a resident bill of rights codified in Florida Statutes, specifically F.S. 429.28. This provision affords residents a litany of protections, including the right to a safe living environment free from abuse and neglect, treatment that is respectful and cognizant of one’s personal dignity and access to appropriate and adequate health care consistent with established and recognized standards in the community. However, Proposal 88 would commit these rights to the state constitution (making them more difficult to amend) and also taking mandatory arbitration agreements off the table. Continue reading