Federal law does not allow former nursing home resident to sue over involuntary discharge, court rules

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A woman involuntarily discharged from an Illinois nursing home does not have the right to file suit under the federal law regulating Medicaid providers, a federal court ruled Monday.

Five years after being admitted to Alden Long Grove Rehabilitation and Health Care Center Inc. in Long Grove, Theresa Schwerdtfeger was involved in verbal dispute with a nurse and another resident, according to court documents. The night of the incident, staff told her she had to leave the facility, and sent her via ambulance to a behavioral health hospital. The Alden administrator subsequently signed an Emergency Notice of Involuntary Transfer or Discharge, stating that Schwerdtfeger posed a danger to individuals in the nursing home.

Schwerdtfeger sued, claiming the nursing home had violated the Nursing Home Reform Amendments (NHRA). This law states that Medicaid-certified facilities “must permit each resident to remain in the facility and must not transfer or discharge the resident” except under special circumstances. Schwerdtfeger argued that these circumstances did not exist, and that the nursing home did not document facts supporting its argument that she was endangering other residents.

Judge Thomas M. Durkin dismissed the suit, saying that the NHRA does not grant residents the right to sue nursing homes in federal court. The law does describe “rights” of residents, but it creates a system for enforcing those rights through government oversight and penalties, not through legal actions by individuals, Durkin wrote.

Through the NHRA, Schwerdtfeger could have pursued an administrative hearing in state court, but she did not do so, Durkin noted.

A federal court in Pennsylvania issued a similar ruling earlier this year.*

Alden Long Grove is a 246-bed, for-profit facility under operational control of Alden Management Services Inc., according to Nursing Home Compare.

*Editor's Note: This article originally stated that the similar ruling came out of Kentucky.
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