More and more Americans rely on nursing homes to provide care for elderly parents and grandparents. Unfortunately, many nursing homes are understaffed and are not providing the level of care that is required. In addition, there are many cases of outright abuse of elderly residents. The Bush Administration, last fall before leaving office, enacted a rule that designates state nursing home inspectors and all Medicare or Medicaid contractors as federal employees. This simple change of designation can have profound impact on any legal action concerning neglect or abuse that occurs in nursing homes. By designating these investigators as federal employees, these individuals are much more shielded from providing evidence. In order to obtain depositions of these investigators and information contained in the files, litigants will now have to go to much greater lengths, and incur much greater expense, in an effort to attempt to retrieve inspection reports or to obtain depositions in cases.
Essentially, these individuals are prohibited from participating in private lawsuits where a facility that receives federal assistance is involved, unless approval is obtained from the head of the Department of Health and Human Services. Maneuvering these bureaucratic channels can cause significant delays in proceedings while state judicial proceedings and federal agencies grapple over these requests.
It is an injustice and an attack on human dignity when elderly nursing home residents are injured and harmed at the hands of a negligent facility; adding a bureaucratic nightmare to the process of seeking redress only adds to the injustice and indignity.