Devastation struck a nursing home in Massachusetts in 2009 when a 100-year-old resident, Elizabeth Barrow, was strangled and suffocated by her 97-year-old roommate.
Just one month before her untimely death, Elizabeth Barrow celebrated her 100th birthday with her family. Her death shocked her family, who holds the nursing home accountable for putting her mother in the situation that led to her death.
The roommate, who suffered from dementia, depression, and paranoia was charged with murder. Despite claims from workers at the nursing home that the roommate was “at risk to harm herself or others,” the nursing home still placed her in a room with Ms. Barrow – a decision that eventually led to her murder.
Scott Barrow, the victim’s son, is now actively working to hold the nursing home accountable. Unfortunately, he is fighting a battle against specifics in his mother’s nursing home contract. Elizabeth’s contract bars Scott from taking the nursing home to court, as it included a clause that forced any issues into private arbitration; not even a dispute over wrongful death.
Adding to the importance of this case is Scott’s fight, not just for his mother but for all nursing home residents to be treated fairly.
The legal difficulty arises when one asks the questions: who signed the contract, and did they understand the implications?
Many nursing homes include arbitration clauses that are buried deep into complex contracts. This has been raising concerns of not just the families fighting against nursing home neglect but also of state regulators, and rightly so. Hundreds of incidents of nursing home abuse, neglect, and wrongful death went to arbitration between the years of 2010-2014. Ultimately, judges have consistently held up these secretive clauses, despite the fact that most of the people who signed the contracts did not understand the rights to which they were signing over.
Mr. Barrow has finally overcome the arbitration clauses in his mother’s contract, as his lawyers argued that although he was his mother’s health care proxy, he did not have the authority to agree to the terms on her behalf. This case is pivotal in nursing home law, as many times, the elderly are admitted into nursing homes by contracts that are signed by family members.
Mr. Barrow shares, “I can’t do anything for my mother, but I want people to realize that they have to investigate nursing homes. Everyone could end up there.”
This month, he will finally have the chance to take his mother’s nursing home to court for her wrongful death.
Source: Michael Corkery and Jessica Silver-Greedberg, “Pivotal Nursing Home Suit Raising a Simple Question: Who Signed the Contract?” New York Times.