Nursing Homes Having Friends or Family Pay Patients’ Debt

Often using admissions agreements to ensnare friends and family who have no legal responsibility for residents’ debts, nursing homes are ignoring federal debt collection laws as they go after residents’ children, grandchildren, and friends to get nursing home bills paid. In some cases lawsuits against families are in the tens of thousands of dollars.

According to a recent NPR article reporting on a KHN-NPR investigation, the nursing home industry has been targeting family members and friends of nursing home residents for payment of nursing home debts. Using what consumer lawyers and nursing home malpractice and wrongful death attorneys across the country consider to be aggressive and malicious tactics, nursing homes have been suing not only residents and their spouses, but also their friends and family members, who often have no meaningful financial ties to their loved ones and are not legally accountable for residents’ debts.

Despite the fact that federal law protects against nursing homes having friends or family pay patients’ debt, the KHN-NPR investigation, conducted in New York’s Monroe County, indicates that nearly two-thirds of the 238 debt collection cases filed by 24 federally licensed nursing homes between 2018 to 2021 targeted a friend or relative. The cases sought nearly $7.6 million. In many of them, friends and family were bullied by the nursing homes, who accused them of hiding their loved one’s assets, an act known as “fraudulent conveyance.” The NPR article claimed that this intimidation tactic was effective enough to get some people—even those who had no way to access residents’ money and therefore no way to hide these assets—to pay bills out of their own pockets. A number of these lawsuits were unsupported by documentation.

In other cases, nursing homes pointed to signed admission agreements as proof that friends or relatives agreed to take on financial responsibility for their loved ones—a strategy that should not come as a surprise to any nursing home malpractice attorney or wrongful death attorney. Since nursing home admission agreements consist of many pages and can be tough for incoming residents and their families to understand, it is easy for many nursing homes to include illegal or otherwise deceptive provisions in these agreements. Often times, clauses are included that make family members the “responsible party” for bill payment. By law, facilities cannot request third party guarantees of financial payment, but some do so anyway; as a result, without a careful reading or the help of a nursing home malpractice attorney, families are signing agreements without realizing what their signature means. Even when friends and family members are reluctant, some nursing homes insist that the admission agreement be signed. Making such a demand is also a violation of federal law, but without the advice of a nursing home malpractice and wrongful death attorney, families feel coerced into signing. For this reason it is advisable that family members not only to refuse to sign admission agreements that contain any terms that are illegal or violate a resident’s rights, but also to have a nursing home malpractice and wrongful death attorney go through the admission agreement beforehand to ensure it is safe to sign.

While Beth Martino, a spokesperson for the American Health Care Association, claimed that lawsuits against families are “not a common occurrence,” consumer attorneys in New York, Massachusetts, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, and California told NPR that debt collection lawsuits against family and friends are a common occurrence.

Get a Nursing Home Malpractice Attorney’s Advice before Signing Admission Agreements

If your loved one is entering a Philadelphia/PA or NJ nursing home and you have questions about admission agreements, arbitration agreements, or resident rights, you should have a knowledgeable nursing home malpractice attorney ready to advise you. Brian P. Murphy is a seasoned Philadelphia/PA and NJ malpractice and wrongful death attorney, and is dedicated to preserving the rights of your loved ones and protecting friends and family from being targeted in unlawful debt collection cases. If you have concerns about nursing home malpractice at the Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, or New Jersey nursing home where your loved one lives, or if someone you love has suffered a wrongful death as the result of nursing home neglect, please contact nursing home malpractice and wrongful death attorney Brian P. Murphy to discover your legal rights and options.