Dave Kingsley

Thanks to Susie and Ivanka Talveski, Seven Supreme Court Justices, and Individuals and Organizations Filing Amicus Briefs, the Federal Nursing Home Rights Act Has Been Strongly Reinforced.

    In a decision written by Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson and reported on Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court held that unambiguous provisions of the Federal Nursing Home Rights Act (FNHRA) are enforceable by private individuals under Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871 (H.H.C. of Marion County v. Talveski[1]). This is a big deal because it means that practices such as use of chemical restraints and arbitrary transfer are illegal and a cause for action in federal courts.  Patients and their families cannot be restricted only to medical malpractice suits in state courts and/or to state administrative remedies.

    Susie Talevski, an attorney, initially filed a suit in Federal District Court on behalf of her mother Ivanka after her father Gorgi Talveski was arbitrarily transferred to a facility an hour and a half from their home.  The transfer occurred after the Talveski family consulted with outside physicians and hired a neurologist to evaluate the regimen of drugs administered to Mr. Talveski.  It appeared that his health deteriorated after the drug regimen was initiated and improved after six powerful psychotropic medications were terminated from the regimen.

    In conversations with Susie and her colleagues in Indiana, I’ve learned that it is very difficult to navigate the Indiana tort liability laws and even make it into state courts with a suit against a nursing home.  As in most states, awards for victims of medical malpractice are capped and not more than a hand slap in Indiana.

    Furthermore, as most of us who advocate for nursing home patients know, there is no real remedy at the state level in most states for any type of redress when abuse and neglect occur. Administrative remedies through state agencies tend to end up in the “nothing to see here” file.

    In the final analysis, patients and families have the best chance for redress in federal courts when nursing homes illegally violate rights granted by FNHRA.  I applaud Susie’s courage in fighting this case all the way to Supreme Court.  In agreement with H.H.C. of Marion County’s claim that she didn’t have standing to sue in federal court, the district court threw out her case.  She appealed to the 7th Circuit, which overturned the decision of the district court. H.H.C. of Marion County appealed, and the Supreme Court granted certiorari.

H.H.C. of Marion County v. Taleveski Should not be Below the Radar, but it is.

    On Thursday, the Supreme Court voting rights decision and the indictment of former President Donald Trump grabbed all of the headlines and H.H.C. of Marion County v. Talveski seems to have escaped media notice. I hope this case is discussed widely and in depth by advocates and scholars.  The back story and the legal implications of the case are far more extensive and complicated than I want to deal with in this brief blog post. Protection of the right to be free from chemical restraints and capricious behavior of nursing home providers should not be left to state tort law and/or the whim of state agencies, many of which have a propensity to protect the interests of the industry at the expense of patients and families.  Certainly, Indiana has one of the most anti-consumer torts laws in the U.S. 

    It was shocking to read the argument of the U.S. Solicitor General on behalf of the provider (H.H.C. of Marion County) before the Supreme Court.  She claimed that administrative channels at the state level were sufficient to insure FNHRA rights. This naivete on his part is one more example of how out of touch federal administrative agencies are in assuming that individuals are not in serious jeopardy of having their rights violated or ignored within individual states.

The ”Medicaid Unwinding:” An Orwellian Euphemism for Abject Cruelty & Profound Ignorance

    Fortunately, the Talveski family, the 7th Circuit, and seven Supreme Court justices could see that individual civil rights granted to all U.S. citizens by Congress should be protected in the federal courts under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, Section 1983.  The precedents for this case have pertained mostly to Medicaid rights in general. 

    During COVID, the Federal Matching Percentage (FMAP) for state Medicaid programs was increased by a hefty percentage for the purpose of preventing the administrative burden on Medicaid beneficiaries who are required to reapply each year and prove their eligibility for the program.  As a condition for receiving the FMAP uplift, states could not disenroll individuals from the Medicaid program.  The number of people receiving Medicaid benefits, i.e., had access to medical care, grew at a vast rate.  That program ended on May 1st, and now the so-called unwinding, i.e., kicking people off, has resulted in a precipitous drop in enrollees. 

  With weak state regulation of healthcare providers, it is likely that states will regularly violate the rights of U.S. residents to medical care.  Especially in states with far-right wing legislatures, harassment of poor individuals and families needing medical care and other assistance is ordinary and ongoing.  In Arkansas, a state that tried for a waiver from CMS to force Medicaid enrollees to undergo drug tests, the current governor, Sara Huckabee Sanders, has come up with “Arkansas Renew” as the Orwellian label for her disenrollment program.

    All realms of human rights and civil rights are critically important if we are to retain a semblance of Democracy.  Drugging and disappearing people into out of the way institutions is one of the most chilling and horrifying practices imaginable in any society.  Certainly, it is characteristic of fascist, authoritarian governments.  That it happens on behest of corporations attempting to optimize return for shareholders, executives, and other special interests, doesn’t make it any less odious.

[1] https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/22pdf/21-806_2dp3.pdf.