An Alameda County Judge has ruled that a California law, which allows nursing homes to make medical decisions on behalf of certain mentally incompetent residents, is unconstitutional.
According to a Kaiser Health News report, the law, which has been in effect for more than 20 years, gave nursing homes the authority to decide residents’ medical treatment if a doctor determined they did not have the mental competency to do so and if they had no one to represent them.
Judge Evilio M. Gillo wrote in the decision that this law is unconstitutional because it violates patients’ due process rights because it does not require the facilities to notify patients they have been deemed incapacitated or to give them the opportunity to object.
Grillo acknowledged that the decision could create problems in how nursing homes operate, but said that patients’ rights supersede those issues.
Serious Concern About Patients’ Rights
The judge wrote that any error in making a determination regarding patients’ care may result in significant consequences including death.
The medical decisions on incapacitated residents without representatives are made by a team, which includes a physician and a nurse.
It is cause for serious concern that doctors and nurses are tasked with making end-of-life decisions for patients, the, the judge said.
The ruling came after advocacy group, California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, filed a lawsuit against the state Department of Public Health alleging nursing homes are using this law to administer anti-psychotic drugs, place residents in physical restraints, and deny patients life-sustaining treatment.
Potential for Nursing Home Abuse
As California nursing home abuse lawyers, we welcome the judge’s decision, which aims to uphold the rights of one of the most vulnerable sections of our society – elderly patients with mental illnesses.
This law also gave nursing homes too much latitude, which could be easily abused. As nursing home advocates say, many California nursing homes were abusing this law to restrain their patients physically or with drugs.
With more and more nursing homes cutting on qualified staff to increase their bottom line, this situation could only get worse.
If you suspect that your loved one has been abused or is being neglected in a California nursing home, it is crucial that you understand your legal rights and options.
Negligent nursing homes that shortchange their clients and treat them with no regard for quality care, should be held accountable.