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More than half of the nursing homes aren't complying with Ruthie's Law, but do they have to?

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Posted at 5:43 PM, Feb 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-13 18:48:14-05

Some Erie County legislators are challenging County Executive Mark Poloncarz — accusing him of not enforcing the Ruthie’s Law he campaigned on.

Ruthie’s Law is named after Ruth Murray, who died after she was severely beaten at Emerald North nursing home facility.

The law requires nursing homes in Erie County to inform a designated individual within two hours after a resident suffers an injury that requires hospital treatment.

But, a new report released Tuesday by the County commissioner of Senior Services shows that more than 50% of nursing homes in the area are not complying with the reporting requirement.

Erie County minority leader Joe Lorigo sent a letter about the report to legislator Lisa Chimera who chairs the county’s health and human services committee.

Chimera called a meeting with senior services commissioner David Shenk.

“(The) senior services commissioner told us what he was doing,” said Lorigo. “He said he was making nice phone calls and using softball tactics to try and get nursing homes in compliance with the law. The law allows us to fine nursing homes for not being in compliance it’s been nearly three years since its passage and we haven’t issued one fine. That’s a problem.”

Shenk released the following statement Thursday afternoon to 7 Eyewitness News:

Our latest data as of 3:30 this afternoon has 19 of the 35 nursing homes in Erie County now being in compliance with ‘Ruthie’s Law.’ I spent time today with my staff visiting some of the facilities who have not yet contacted us in an effort to learn why they are not complying. This is part of our continued efforts to protect local senior citizens. We are making progress and plan to revisit the next necessary steps for enforcement with the County Attorney’s Office. We encourage people to visit the county website for updates as more compliance reports are expected to soon be received from area nursing homes.
David Shenk, Erie County Commissioner of Senior Services

Here is a link to the information about nursing home reports.

When we reached out to one of the facilities that appeared to have not filed reports with the county for over two years — we were told by a representative that it didn’t have to.

Elderwood Vice President of Marketing Chuck Hayes said the law is “unenforceable”.

His statement is below.

Erie County recently published a listing of several Skilled Nursing Facilities that it has identified as being “out of compliance” with “Ruthie’s Law,” county legislation passed in 2017 that requires skilled nursing facilities to report on a semi-annual basis, a list of “reportable events.”

Elderwood, along with state-wide trade organizations and legal counsel contend that the law is superseded by New York State Public Health Law 2812, which states in part that:

...no county, town, or village shall enact and enforce regulations or standards for hospitals, except for hospitals maintained by the health services administration by the city of New York or the New York city health and hospitals corporation...

The term “Hospitals” in the public health law includes nursing homes.

The Erie County legislation is both unenforceable and duplicative. It’s intent, to provide transparency to consumers is already enabled through publicly available reports made to the New York State Department of Health and information made available by the federal government through tools like “Nursing Home Compare” on the CMS Website.

The County’s concern for the wellbeing of the frail and elderly in no way exceeds our own. We put resident care and safety above all else and information about our performance and the performance of all nursing homes in New York State is readily available to the public.
Chuck Hayes, Vice President of Marketing and Communications Elderwood

Here is a link to the Nursing Home Compare search tool.

A representative for the County Executive said this will likely play out over the next few weeks as attorneys are consulted for next steps.

In committee Thursday, the Commissioner stated nursing homes that don't comply by February 28h will face civil penalties as proscribed by the law.