The U.S. Supreme Court on June 8 ruled that a nursing home resident does have a private right of action under the Federal Nursing Home Reform Act that is enforceable under Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act, in a suit accusing an Indiana care facility of negligently giving a resident psychiatric drugs and trying to transfer him without the family's consent.
The case, Health and Hospitals Corp. of Marion County et al. v. Talevski, involved the estate of Gorgi Talevski, a deceased dementia patient who allegedly was abused at a long-term care facility. Talevski’s family attempted to enforce his rights to safe and dignified care by suing the agency that owned the long-term care facility. After the trial court dismissed Talevski’s suit, the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court examined whether Spending Clause legislation such as Medicaid and the Social Security Act gives rise to privately enforceable rights under Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act, which provides individuals the right to sue state officials for violating the U.S. Constitution or federal law and, if so, whether the Federal Nursing Home Amendments Act of 1987’s transfer and medication rules give rise to private rights enforceable under Section 1983. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson's opinion said the Federal Nursing Home Reform Act "unambiguously" creates rights that are enforceable by the Civil Rights Act.
Health care partner Stephanie Webster led a Ropes & Gray pro bono team including heath care associates Joshua Balk and Joanne Hyun and litigation & enforcement associate Philip Ehrlich that filed an amicus brief with the Court on behalf of the American Public Health Association, the American College of Preventive Medicine, and 40 deans, chairs, and public health and health policy scholars.
The amicus brief argued that Medicaid must be protected through continued enforcement rights under Section 1983. The brief highlighted how Section 1983 protects Medicaid beneficiaries’ rights to health care and establishes that judiciary relief is needed to protect such rights, and noted that state administrative remedies do not suffice.
In addressing what was at stake in the case, Stephanie said, “While the case is about the private right to enforce Medicaid requirements, and thus critically important to the nation’s most vulnerable patients with health care coverage from that particular program, the case could have implications for other federal ‘Spending Clause’ programs and the rights of millions of low-income Americans who rely on them.”
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