BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — “It was rushed through with lots of fanfare and very little teeth,” Erie County legislator minority leader Joe Lorigo said.
Ruthie's Law was created to help protect senior citizens in nursing homes. The law is named after Ruth Murray, she was a resident at Emerald South Nursing Home in Buffalo. In 2016 she died after a fight with a resident.
“It’s a shame that it’s gone, it’s even more a shame that the county executive and his legal team didn’t fight harder to keep it on the books,” Lorigo said.
But not everyone wanted to see the law upheld. Some claim the law was unconstitutional.
“Erie County could not do this, and we made this known to the country in terms of pointing out the provisions of the health law,” President of NYS Health Facilities Organization Stephen Hanse said.
The judge who struck down the law says it was “unlawful, unconstitutional and unenforceable.” The New York State Department of Health and New York State are the only two entities that have the authority to regulate hospitals and nursing homes.
“You could potentially have 62 different sets of rules and regulations for hospitals and nursing homes throughout New York, that would be chaos,” Lorigo said.
A 2020 report from the county commissioner of senior services found more than 50% of nursing homes in the area did not comply with Ruthie’s Law. The law requires nursing homes to contact families in a timely matter after an incident and that they report resident injuries to the county.
“The local notification I think is most important because we are the ones who are closest to the situation and closet to the residents,” Lorigo said.
County Executive Mark Poloncarz reacted to the decision in a statement to Channel 7:
“The court’s decision to strike Ruthie’s Law is disappointing and will remove a much-needed layer of oversight from nursing home operations. Nursing home residents are among our most vulnerable populations, deserving of as much support and protection as possible. As we have seen in the past year, locally and on a statewide level, this population is also extremely vulnerable to COVID-19, although the virus’s high lethality for nursing home residents was unjustifiably underreported by the state and only came to light months later. Tragedies like these, as well as the need to ensure safe, secure and healthy living spaces, underscore the need for county oversight and monitoring of these facilities. Erie County will now review potential next steps including a possible appeal.”
“The answers in the wording, I don’t anticipate there’s actually going to an appeal, especially looking at the decision today,” Lorigo said.
“It’s redundant, the safeguards they were going to implement are already in place,” Hanse said.
Important to note just because Ruthie’s Law was struck down does not mean nursing home residents have no protections. The law was intended to add extra protection and transparency, but there are state and federal laws in place to ensure safety.