A lawsuit has been filed against officials from Erie County, New York by eight nursing homes and the state association over the legality and enforceability of a local law known as Ruthie’s Law. The Ruthie’s Law lawsuit was filed the week of Feb. 17, 2020, in the New York State Supreme Court and neither side has announced any intention of settling the matter out of court.
The Ruthie’s Law lawsuit centers around the titular “Ruthie’s Law,” which was passed in 2017 but is now seeing more enforcement efforts after local legislators announced their displeasure with the lack of aggresive enforcement of Ruthie’s Law. Under Ruthie’s Law nursing homes are obligated to perform three tasks.
First, Ruthie’s Law mandates that nursing homes must inform a designated relative or guardian within the hour if a resident suffers an injury requiring hospitalization. Second, Ruthie’s Law grants the county’s commissioner of senior services the ability to subpoena and review nursing home injury reports. Third, Ruthie’s Law requires nursing homes to send a twice-annual report to the Department of Senior Serices detailing all incidents that resulted in injury and/or death. These efforts to increase nursing home accountability and transparency have been called illegal and unenforceable by the Ruthie’s Law lawsuit.
According to the Ruthie’s Law lawsuit, filed by the New York State Health Facilities Association (NYSHFA) and eight nursing homes from Elderwood, Amherst, Cheektowaga, Grand Island, Hamburg, Lancaster, and Williamsville, the reason the Ruthie’s Law is illegal and therefore unenforceable is because under Section 2812 of New York Public Health Law, nursing homes are regulated by the New York State Department of Health. This statewide regulation, the lawsuit claims, means that no laws made on the county or state level can affect the nursing homes.
NYSHFA President Stephen Hanse told reporters for the Buffalo News that county nursing homes had tried to simply ignore the law and that they”have reached out to the County authorities in an effort to resolve this matter without litigation, but unfortunately Erie County appears to be adamant in proceeding to enforce the law and fine these facilities.” Hanse’s organization lists County Executive Mark Poloncarz, Senior Services Commissioner David Shenk, and County Attorney Michael Siragusa as defendants in the Ruthie’s Law lawsuit.
David Shenk, who received the appointment to Senior Services commissioner in May, 2019, told reporters that he has spent the first months of 2020 attempting to increase the amount voluntary buy-in from nursing homes to show themselves as transparent and accountable organizations. In response to news of the Ruthie’s Law lawsuit, Mark Poloncarz stated that although he supported Shenk’s efforts to avoid litigation and increase voluntary adoption, he would absolutely take more aggressive action, including fighting the Ruthie’s Law lawsuit. Poloncarz also told reporters that even if the local law is ruled to be unenforceable, he will begin a new crusade to convince state lawmakers to pass new rules to allow greater local oversight of nursing homes.
For information about spotting signs of neglect in nursing homes on an individual level, visit the National Association of Nursing Home Attorneys’ Neglect Page.