County executive presents new local law requiring timely guardian notification for seniors injured in nursing homes; also issues executive order on publicizing nursing home rankings
Poloncarz joined by Ryan in call on NYSDOH to increase maximum fine, penalties for injurious offenses in nursing homes
Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz was joined late last week by New York State Assemblyman Sean Ryan (149th District), Erie County Commissioner of Social Services Al Dirschberger, Commissioner of Senior Services Timothy Hogues, and concerned residents to unveil a package of actions designed to better protect seniors in nursing homes following a fatal attack on such a resident last year.
At the center of the package is "Ruthie's Law," a new local law that would require nursing homes to notify residents' guardians within a one-hour timeframe when a determination has been made that the residents' injuries are so severe that they would have to be transported to a hospital. Additionally, the law will require nursing homes to disclose their New York State Department of Health ranking at the point of application to every potential resident and family pursuing placement in their facility, and also to provide injury and fatality data to the county commissioner of senior services when an incident occurs. This data would not contain identification data of the patient, but the nature of the injury and the cause of death as best determined.
Poloncarz's camp said that, in late August, 82-year-old Ruth Murray, a resident with Alzheimer's disease at Emerald South Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center in Buffalo, sustained fatal injuries in a fight with another resident at the facility after mistakenly walking into the resident's room. Her attacker also suffers from Alzheimer's. Poloncarz's camp said staff at the facility told family members Murray had been injured in an "altercation," and had some cuts on her face and bruising on her backside. However, doctors at Erie County Medical Center informed the family that Murray had broken ribs, broken bones in her neck, facial fractures, a broken nose and a collapsed lung as a result of the incident. She died three days later from her injuries, age and health.
"Our senior citizens are among the most vulnerable people in our community, and are deserving of our love, respect and protection," Poloncarz said. "They cared for us during our childhood, and now we need to ensure their safety in their golden years. When they are not able to care for themselves, their loved ones depend on caring and compassionate staff at area nursing homes to be there, making sure safety and comfort needs are met.
"As we have seen, tragedy can strike in a matter of seconds and, with such a frail population, every second counts. Guardians and loved ones need to have complete and accurate information as soon as possible when senior residents are injured in any way in a nursing home. Today, we are proposing a law for nursing homes to provide this information in a timely manner, we are calling for a harsher penalty for those who do not, and we will be making information on nursing home rankings available to the public."
Emerald South Nursing Home was fined $10,000 as a result of the incident, the largest penalty allowable under current law. Fines for incidents at nursing homes are rare, and Poloncarz is joining with Ryan to call on the state legislature to support a newly presented state law that would increase the maximum fine for nursing home offenses to $50,000. Ryan has sponsored the measure at the state level.
Ryan said, "Emerald South neglected the care and supervision of its patients, which tragically resulted in the death of Ruth Murray. We must ensure that fines for neglect, which are leveled on nursing homes, actually act as a deterrent. The current penalty structure does little to ensure nursing homes take all precautions necessary to ensure the safety of their residents. Increasing the fine to a maximum of $50,000 per incident will ensure nursing homes understand that New York state takes this issue seriously, and they must make supervision an essential priority.
"I thank County Executive Mark Poloncarz for introducing Ruthie's Law in Erie County, and I am proud to sponsor state legislation to hold all nursing homes across New York state accountable for their actions."
Poloncarz also issued an executive order, his 16th, which creates a county website to publicize the ranking of nursing homes in Erie County. The site, which will launch today, will provide a searchable list of all nursing homes in Erie County. Once a home is selected, all past infraction information will be viewable along with the ranking that the state DOH assigns to the facility. Erie County Social and Senior Services will also be tasked with disseminating this information. In addition, Erie County Senior Services would also create a "Know your Rights" guide for residents considering placing a loved one in a nursing home, which would include the listing of nursing homes in Erie County with their ranking.
"We encourage families with loved ones in nursing homes to be vigilant, to be around as much as they can, ask questions, and to keep records of everything that happens. It's important to stay as active and involved as you can when a loved one is in a nursing home," Hogues said. "This new law will compel nursing homes to notify guardians promptly when their loved one is injured, and the new website will help families exploring potential nursing home placements to quickly see any infractions a facility might have. Along with stiffer penalties for offenders, these are valuable tools to use in protecting our seniors."
The commissioner of the Erie County Department of Social Services also acts as the legal guardian of more than 40 seniors in area nursing homes who have no next-of-kin or other guardianship. As such, the commissioner has sent a letter to each facility where seniors under his guardianship reside with a request they provide to him a formalized policy of how they handle patient injuries, including timelines and procedures for notifying families.
Dirschberger said, "Having an effective and up-to-date policy regarding resident injuries and the notification process that ensues is essential to safeguarding these vulnerable individuals and creating an atmosphere of trust in these facilities. We will be in contact with every nursing home with a resident or residents under county guardianship to ensure that these policies are in place and workable."
For more information on the Erie County Department of Senior Services, visit http://www2.erie.gov/seniorservices/; on the Erie County Department of Social Services, visit http://www2.erie.gov/socialservices/; or on the New York State Department of Health, visit https://www.health.ny.gov/.