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Nursing Homes Increasingly Slip In Arbitration Agreements, But Think Twice Before Signing


Anyone who has or may someday have family in a nursing home, take note: A mandatory arbitration agreement is probably not in your family's best interest. Though such agreements are becoming increasingly common at nursing homes and assisted living facilities, there's good reason for family members of residents not to sign.

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The purpose of mandatory arbitration agreements is to prevent legal action against a facility should something bad happen. By signing, a family agrees to take any disputes to a professional arbitrator rather than to court. While arbitration does carry some benefits - claims are typically resolved more quickly than court cases - consumer advocates say that agreeing to arbitrate is generally not in families' best interests. Not only will it prevent them from filing a lawsuit in a case of negligence or wrongful death, but it could wind up costing them a lot of money, as well.

In addition to hiring a lawyer, the patient or family generally has to pay its share of the arbitrator's fee, which may come to hundreds of dollars an hour, says Paul Bland, a senior attorney at Public Justice, a public interest law firm based in Washington.

"In court, you don't have to pay the judge," he says. "Our taxes pay for that."

And should an arbitrator find the facility at fault, the amount awarded is likely to be less than if a case went to trial, experts say.

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Because such agreements are often tucked into admissions paperwork and presented as standard, it's important for families and caregivers to be aware of what arbitration agreements mean, be on the lookout for them and know they don't have to sign. It's not a condition of admission to most facilities, said Greg Crist, a spokesman for the American Health Care Association (though practices may vary at individual nursing homes). For those who sign but then change their minds, arbitration agreements typically have a 30-day opt-out clause. [For more on what you should look (and lookout) for in a nursing home, check out this nursing home comparison checklist or AARP blogger  Michelle Seitzer's series of posts on finding the right retirement home for you or your loved one.]

Tuesday Quick Hits:

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- Who moves as parents age? As new analysis found adult children are 1.6 times more likely to relocate closer to parents than the other way around. Perhaps the parents aren't always the dependent parties, notes researcher and gerontologist Michal Engelman. "In many ways, older people are also a resource, able to provide support and an anchor for the family."

Photo: Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

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