Nursing home's safety documents not protected, court rules

A North Carolina nursing home operator can't claim privilege in protecting documents created by its safety committee from discovery, a federal trial court has ruled.

The case stems from the death of a resident, allegedly due to injuries sustained in an accident involving a wheelchair ramp at a nursing home owned by SSC Silver Stream Operating Co.

Relatives of the resident requested all safety audits involving the facility's entrance and grounds, meeting minutes or documents from the safety committee, the safety committee's toolkit and incident reports. SSC refused to produce the documents, claiming privilege under a North Carolina law that protects documents prepared by or for a quality assurance committee.

The law defines a quality assurance committee as a department or agency of a nursing home that is “formed for the purpose of evaluating the quality, cost of, or necessity for healthcare services under applicable federal and state statutes, regulations, and rules,” court documents state.

The court ruled that SCC's safety committee didn't qualify as a quality assurance committee since it met separately and kept separate records from its quality assurance and performance improvement committee.