M. Scott Carter/Oklahoma Watch
In the summer of 2013, Pearl Wolf, 93, got sick and went to the hospital. After watching her health decline, her family decided to place Wolf in a nursing home.
“She was really starting to deteriorate,” her grandson, Bill Whited, said.
The family decided to place Wolf in Rose Manor in Shawnee. Located near Wolf’s house, the facility accepted Medicaid and Medicare patients and Whited considered its staff excellent. The family hoped Wolf would get well enough to return home.
Then a dilemma arose. Rose Manor, owned by Grace Living Centers, gave Wolf’s family a pack of documents to sign, including a four-page agreement requiring the family to submit to binding arbitration if Wolf or her family had a disagreement related to care. That meant the family couldn’t sue in court, and damages awarded would likely be less.
Whited, a long-term care ombudsman for the state Department of Human Services, said he was surprised by the agreement. “I told my family that it wasn’t allowed under the state’s Nursing Home Care Act. I told them that residents could not be required to sign away their rights, that nursing homes couldn’t use arbitration agreements as part of the admission process.”
Needing to find a nursing home quickly, Whited’s family signed anyway.
Across the state, hundreds of other families often face the same situation. Although arbitration agreements with nursing homes are invalid under state law, many homes still require them as part of their admission packet, arguing the pacts are allowed under federal arbitration law.
Whited said his research shows a “substantial portion” of Oklahoma’s 312 nursing homes or facilities are requiring the elderly or their families to submit to binding arbitration as a condition for being admitted. Many families aren’t aware such agreements violate state law, he said.
That means some families enter arbitration to resolve issues that could be dealt with instead by a jury or judge. Arbitration rulings also are confidential and cannot be appealed.
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