A United States District Court recently ruled that a nursing home resident does not have a private right to assert a lawsuit against a nursing home for involuntary discharge under the Nursing Home Reform Act. Schwerdtfeger v. Alden Long Grove Rehabilitation and Health Care Center (U.S. Dist. Ct., N.D. Ill., No. 13 C 8316, May 12, 2014).

Theresa Schwerdtfeger, an Illinois Medicaid recipient and nursing home resident, had a verbal dispute with a nurse and another resident. As a result, the nursing home told Ms. Schwerdtfeger she was required to leave the facility. She was immediately transferred to a hospital and then to another nursing home. While Ms. Schwerdtfeger was in the hospital, the nursing home served her with a notice of involuntary discharge stating that the discharge was necessary because “the safety of individuals in this facility is endangered.” Ms. Schwerdtfeger requested an administrative hearing with the Illinois Department of Public Health disputing the validity of the discharge. The nursing home eventually withdrew the involuntary discharge, but did not allow Ms. Schwerdtfeger to return to the facility. An administrative law judge dismissed the appeal because the involuntary discharge had been withdrawn.

Ms. Schwerdtfeger filed suit in federal court, claiming the nursing home impermissibly discharged her in violation of the Nursing Home Reform Act (NHRA) in that “[1] there was no emergency; [2] [Schwerdtfeger] was not provided proper notice of her involuntary discharge; [3] the listed reason for discharge, that safety of individuals in the facility was endangered, was not supported by the facts; [4] the facts relied upon by defendants were insufficiently documented; [5] Defendants did not offer [Schwerdtfeger] counseling services; and [6] Defendant did not readmit Schwerdtfeger] after the alleged emergency had passed.” The nursing home moved to dismiss, arguing that (1) the NHRA does not create private rights for nursing facility residents, and (2) even if NHRA does create such rights, the NHRA does not provide a private remedy for violation of those rights by nursing facility residents against private nursing facilities

The U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, dismissed Schwerdtfeger’s claim, holding that there is no private right of action under the NHRA. According to the court, “The ‘rights’ provided by the NHRA are not absolute federal rights, but qualified rights in that the rights exist only because a nursing facility participates in a federally funded Medicaid plan… Congress has clearly and unambiguously provided a remedial process for nursing facility residents to enforce the rights the NHRA provides in state courts. Rights qualified by their statutory context are not actionable outside the remedial process provided by that statute.”

The case is annexed here – Schwerdtfeger v. Alden Long Grove Rehabilitation and Health Care Center

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