Saturday, March 2, 2024

Case Western Reserve Hosts Law-Med Conference on Diminished Capacity and the Law

Law and Bioethics Professor Sharona Hoffman, Co-Director of the Law-Medicine Center at Case Western Reserve University organized a terrific symposium on Cognitive Decline and the Law, held on March 1, 2024.  Thank you, Sharona, for inviting me to participate!   

In my talk, I  suggested that the time has come for clearer thinking on a long-standing legal standard, known in many jurisdictions as the "Lucid Moment" or the "Lucid Interval Doctrine," that has permitted attorneys' testimony on clients' orientation in time, place and person to suffice as evidence of sufficient capacity in legal transactions, even in the face of expert medical testimony about Alzheimer's Disease or other advanced dementias. Research demonstrates that Canadian academics have been  questioning reliance on "lucid intervals in dementia" as early as 2015.  My additional thanks to Penn State Dickinson Law student and research assistant extraordinaire, Noah Yeagley, for joining us at the conference and who was especially enjoying this conference opportunity to revisit his pre-law school graduate work in neuroscience. IMG_0764

The day began with a keynote presentation by Dr. Carol Barnes, University of Arizona, addressing "Brain Mechanisms Responsible for Cognitive Decline in Aging."  One key takeaway for me from her presentation was that while physical exercise is important for overall health, "learning new things" is probably even more important in maintaining cognitive function over time.  

The first set of panelists dug deeply into the roles of people supporting others in decision-making, whether with the aid of formal "supported decision-making agreements" and use of powers of attorney or different forms of substituted judgment.  Rebekah Diller, Clinical Professor at Cardozo Law, Megan Wright, Professor of Law and Medicine at Penn State Law, and James Toomey, Assistant Professor of Law at Pace University were the presenters on cutting-edge issues.

In the second panel, Neurology Professor Mark Fisher from the University of California Irvine was very timely in his focus on the potential for cognitive decline in both voters and candidates in politics, discussing a wide range of possible examples across history in the U.S. and Israel.  Associate Professor Jalayne Arias from Georgia State University School of Public Health demonstrated significant concerns in the overlap between criminality and dementia, whether from the standpoint of arrest, conviction, incarceration, or release of persons with cognitive declines.

Sharona Hoffman did double duty during the packed day, presenting issues of cognitive declines both in the workplace and on our roads.   She used humor to soften some of the tough news on the lack accountability for risk in either domain.  It was clear from the audience response -- in both the sold-out auditorium and on-line -- that everyone has a story about dementia and drivers, often from our own families.

My long-time friend working specifically in the "elder law" space, Nina Kohn, Professor of Law at Syracuse and now also a Distinguished Scholar in Elder Law at Yale Law School, gave the latest on proposed -- and much needed -- reforms in court-appointed guardianships, highlighting key concerns addressed in the Uniform Guardianship, Conservatorship, and Other Protective Arrangements Act,  adopted as of today in two states, Maine and Washington, and introduced or pending in at least four more states.

The speakers in the important last panel of the day were clearly looking to the future on research and developments in the diagnosis, care and community response needed for "healthier" approaches to problem-solving.  Dr. Jonathan Haines, a genetic epidemiologist at Case Western Reserve University, surveyed the advances and challenges in attempting to build a deep bank of genetic information on Alzheimer's Disease. Law Professor Emily Murphy at UC Law San Francisco outlined the emerging theory of "collective cognitive capacity" as an approach to the challenges posed by social, environmental, and economic factors that may be impacted by brain health and cognitive decline.  Tara Sklar, the Director of the Health Law and Policy Program for the University of Arizona College of Law spoke on the potentials and challenges for telemedicine in treating patients with cognitive declines. Professor Sklar is also the new chair of the AALS Section on Aging and the Law.  

A packed day, for sure, with support from Virginia Lefever, Editor for CWLR's journal of law and medicine, Health Matrix, who was receiving formal drafts of papers 
from presenters for a future issue. Public Art on Campus at Case Western Reserve March 2024

And for those of us who were determined to follow Dr. Barnes' encouragement to "keep learning," the evening did not end early, as we continued with a tour of the University's wonderful public art spaces and then on to the world-renowned art collections at the Cleveland Museum of Art -- including a "First Friday" party that had lots of people dressed up and dancing!  "Hands"-Down, it was a great conference!

March 2, 2024 in Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, State Cases, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 5, 2024

Washington Continuing Care (CCRC) Residents Present Specific "Asks" for Consumer Protections to State Officials

On February 5, 2024, residents of "continuing care retirement communities" (CCRCs), also known as "life plan communities" (LPCs), made a formal presentation to officials from several departments of Washington State government, specifying key regulatory priorities when considering "financial solvency" for this segment of the "senior living industries."  I was able to sit in on the meeting, as someone who has worked with Washington residents about their concerns.

CCRCs are a relatively new focus for legislators in the state of Washington, with "registration" of CCRCs becoming an option in 2017.  But examples of concerns offered by residents demonstrated their concern that a clear state system of  regulation is overdue.  The spokespeople for WACCRA, the state organizations of CCRC Residents in Washington, were organized, detailed and offered precedents from other states. They requested legislation that:

  • Provides formal "licensure" by the state
  • Provides key Resident Rights, including Ombuds' support for dispute resolution
  • Requires facilities to participate in periodic financial reviews, including actuarial reports, in order for the State to better ascertain the ongoing ability of the CCRC to meet both short- and long-term commitments
  • Mandates limitations or prohibitions on facilities' use of residents' payments for services not directly related to resident needs
  • Some method by which residents' contracts and entrance fees are prioritized in the event of a bankruptcy
  • CCRCs be required to fulfill promises of "refundable entrance fees," in a timely and fair manner, such as a system of "first out/first repaid"
  • Adopts stronger safeguards for funding of "life time care," perhaps through guarantee or surety bonds
  • Permits residents to participate as voting members of each CCRC's Board of Directors
  • Assures "meaningful and effective enforcement" of CCRC's obligations to residents, including financial solvency

Additional stakeholders in CCRCs and LPCs including LeadingAge Washington and, of course, operators of any of these enterprises.  A series of similar meetings are to take place from February through April of 2024.  The goal is a final State report to the Legislature no later than July 16, 2024.

February 5, 2024 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Retirement, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

An Analysis of States with Best Elder-Abuse Protections

Recently I was one of several academics invited to provide short commentary on state efforts to provide older adults and their families with protection against elder abuse.  I was interested to read the final on-line article, which offers a comparative approach, analyzing 50 state systems plus Washington D.C.,  for reporting, investigating and taking action where abuse of older adults is suspected or reported.  The site used what are described as "16 key indicators of elder abuse protection in three overall categories."   

Here is a ink to the article, "States with the Best Elder-Abuse Protections."

The article is by Adam McCann, WalletHub Financial Writer, and is published online on December 13, 2023.  There are several drop-down menus for additional information, including the interviews with academics speaking from a variety of perspectives, including  Sharona Hoffman, Professor of Law and Bioethics at Case Western Reserve University School of Law.  

 

December 13, 2023 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 27, 2023

What Happens When Living Isn't Easy in Senior Living?

 

L to R Katie Dang  Katherine Pearson and A.V. Powell in final preparation for the Pennsylvania Elder Law Institute July 2023More than 300  lawyers and other professionals attended the recent Pennsylvania Elder Law Institute (July 25-26, 2023) held in Harrisburg. It was good to be back among long-time friends as well as new colleagues -- our first time together in "real time" since 2019.  The programming began with a tribute to Jeffrey A Marshall, recently retired as a Williamsport, Pennsylvania attorney, who has been a guiding figure for the development of speciaized knowledge and skills for lawyers committed to helping older persons and their family members with practical concerns about care, financing, capacity, agency and more. 

This year the program once again began with a comprehensive "Year in Review" that focuses on recent and proposed legislation or rulemaking, demographic trends, and case law.  Deep appreciation to Marielle Hazen and Rebecca Hobbs for all of their hard work on this key presentation.  Important "keynote"speakers included David Lipschutz, Associate Director for the Center for Medicare Advocacy and legendary Tennessee Elder Law attorney Timothy Takacs.  

I had the pleasure of teaming with Katie Dang and A.V. Powell for a 90-minute session about "What Happens When Living Isn't Easy in Senior Living?" Central topics included concerns about contract rights and obligations in nursing homes, plus we made a deep dive into factors that can affect financial soundness of continuing care retirement communities (also known as CCRCs or life plan communities). 

Katie reported on successful efforts to avoid a one-sided contract of adhesion and help a family negotiate fair payment terms for a parent's admission to a nursing home.  She demonstrated key language to strike or modify to reduce the potential for unintended consequences of signing such agreements. Katie Dang  Esq speaking on advising clients about nursing home admission agreements for PA Elder Law Institute 2023

We also reported on a recent Ohio appellate case that rejected a nursing home's attempt to argue a family members was contractually obiligated to personally pay for care.

 

A.V. Powell  actuary  speaking on meaures of solvency in CCRCs at Pennsylvania Elder Law Instiute 2023
A.V. brought to the conversation his dry wit and 40+ years of  experience as a professional actuary.  He has analyzed the fiinancial viability of hundreds of CCRCs around the country.  He noted that Pennsylvania is the birthplace of the CCRC concept and he emphasized the significance of current residents who seek accountabiity by making requests to governing boards for timely evaluations of financial conditions.  A.V. also provided us as lawyers with ways to guide clients who are prospective residents in identifying how an enterprise can provide long-range reassurances about sound finances.   Trust is essential for a model that offers, on the one hand, a holistic approach to purpose-buldt housing, great food (and nutrition), activity and, if needed, nursing or dementia care, but, on the other hand  also expects people to pay thousands of upfront dollars in the form of admission fees plus significant monthly maintenance fees.    

Photos used here are by my summer research assistant, the great Noah Yeagley.  Thank you, Noah!  One of the fun aspects of this conference is being able to introduce current students to practitoners and getting to catch up with so many of my former Penn State Dickinson Law students, including Jared Childers, the incoming Chair of the Pennsylvania Bar's Elder Law Section, and who recently became an adjunct professor at Dickinson Law.  Congratuatlions, Jared!  

July 27, 2023 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Medicaid, Programs/CLEs, Property Management, State Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Updates on Aid-in-Dying Legislation

I noted a couple of developments  concerning medical aid-in-dying laws that I wanted to share.

First, Vermont became the second state to eliminate the reseidency requirement for aid-in-dying.  This change was pursuant to litigation by a plaintiff in Connecticutt. See Vermont Removes Residency Requirement for Medically Assisted Deaths  and   see VT HB 190,  https://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/status/2024/H.190. The language of the bill amending the statute is available here.

And on the other side of the issue of the right to assistance-in-dying, a group in California has challenged their law. Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) Health News reported last month that Disability Rights Groups Sue to Overturn California’s Physician-Assisted Death Law. The article notes the platinffs' argument that "that recent changes make it too easy for people with terminal diseases whose deaths aren’t imminent to kill themselves with drugs prescribed by a doctor" and that this law and its process "'steers people with terminal disabilities away from necessary mental health care, medical care, and disability supports, and towards death by suicide under the guise of ‘mercy’ and ‘dignity’ in dying,' the suit argues. The terminal disease required for assistance is, by definition, a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act...."  A story about the litigation is available on NPR here.

May 25, 2023 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink

Monday, May 22, 2023

Arizona Feature: "Arizona Seniors At Risk of Harm"

Appearing on the front page of the Sunday edition of the Arizona Republic (5.21.23),  the first paragraphs of an extended feature article point to the potential for harm to residents and the consequences of staff shortages or inattention at Arizona facilicities caring for residents with dementia. Two women in their 90s  are residents of an elegantly appointed assisted living facility-- but as the article begins they are covered in blood -- and the investigation of what happened there is hampered by the inability of anyone to give clear explanations. 

The feature, based on the newspaper's review of "thousands of pages of police and state regulatory reports," offers multiple reasons for such injuries in "senior living" facilities, including a lack of clear reporting rules and the absence of investigation by state agencies, especially for facilities licsenced for "assisted living" as opposed to "nursing home" care.  From the  feature:

In memory care units, anything can become a weapon -- toilet plungers, shoehorns, electric razors, TV remotes, metal trash grabbers and walking canes. Hundreds of vulnerable seniors, particularly those with dementia, contend with violence at the end of their lives in the very places that promise to keep them safe. 

 

Shortages of staff-- brought on by companies looking to maximize profits or stave off financial losses -- lead to more harm. Assisted living facilities can keep resident clashes underwraps [in Arizona] because regulartors don't make facilities report incidents to their state licensing agency.  Federally regulated nursing homes have to report but little attention is paid to the problem.

 

The Arizona Republic combed through thousands of pages of policce and state regulatory reports to find more than 200 clashes at senior living facilities from mid-2019 to mid-2022. Residents punched, hit, pushed, kicked, poked scratched, bit, elbowed or spat on other residents or employees.

Experts consulted by the Arizona Republic noted that one "key [to reducing problems] is tailoring a [resident's] care plan to each resident's needs, equipped with activities that bring their lives a sense of purpose."  Further, "[a]ssisted living facilities commonly get in trouble for having inadequate, delayed or out-of-date plans for residents that outline their need or for failing to follow those plans."

The article cautions that if a problem is not tracked, "it doesn't exist":

The Arizona Department of Health Services licenses facilities and is responsible for investigating complaints but assisted living centers don't have to report nonfatal injuries to the agency.  

 

That's not normal.  Most states require facilities to report to their licensing agency when residents get hurt, according to The Republic's review of state laws.

The feature suggests that "Arizona lawmakers and regulators have prioritized the needs of assisted living and nursing home companies over their residents," comparizing Arizona to  "[a]t least 17 states [that] require assisted living facilities to get inspected about once a year, with a few even requiring two inspections per year. " 

For the full Arizona Republic feature published in its print version on May 21, 2023, look for  "Arizona seniors at risk of harm: Facilities experiencing staff shortage, residents with dementia enable violence," by reporters Caitlin McGlade, Melina Walling and Sahana Jayaraman. The extended Sunday feature appears to follow several shorter articles available online in May from the same reporting team. 

May 22, 2023 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 8, 2023

Ohio Appellate Court Confirms that Agent Not "Personally Liable" for Costs of Nursing Home Care

In one of the earliest articles I wrote on familiy member liability under nursing home contracts, I cautioned that federal law prohibits nursing homes from requiring "guarantees" of payment by family members.  Any family member who is asked to sign "on behalf" of a loved one should carefully consider the role he or she is undertaking, especially if the only role acceptable  and affordable for that family member is "agent."  See "The Responsible Thing to Do About 'Responsible Party' Provisions in Nursing Home Agreements," published in 2004 in the Unversity of Michigan Journal of Law Reform.   

On May 1, 2023, an appellate court in Ohio cited this article when concluding that in the case before it, the daughter's role as agent acting under a power of attorney prevented her from becoming personally liable for her mother's costs of care.  The daughter appears to have properly cooperated or assisted in the original Medicaid application.  Further, the daughter gave authority to the nursing home to debit the bank account where her mother's SS checks were deposited each month, in order to pay itself the "patient pay portion" of the monthly allocation for costs of care when a patient has low income but is otherwise eligible for Medicaid.  Thus the nursing home appears to have had at least the same ability as the daughter to avoid accumulation of a sum greater than $2,000, a resource limit that can trigger disruption of  Medicaid benefits.  There was still another party that could be faulted for what appears to have been an unplanned "excess resource" situation.  The court pointed to the failure of the state agency to give effective notice to interested parties about when and why it was terminaating Medicaid.   See National Church Residences First Community Village v. Kessler, 2023 WL 3162188  (Ohio Ct. App. 2023).  

Bottom line?  Family members or others attempting to help an incapacitated person get proper care are well-advised to consult with an experienced elder law attorney early in the process about how to qualify and protect eligability for Medicaid.  Further, clear, direct communications between the agent, the facility and state agencies are important when seeking to facilitate prompt, proper payments.  

Overwhelmed family members should not be scapegoats, even (especially?) when overwhelmed state agencies and facility billing offices are themselves missing opportunities to keep benefit payments flowing properly.  

May 8, 2023 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, State Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Loss of the Ability to Evaluate Risk vs "Winning the Sweepstakes"

When I was a child, my grandfather had an ongoing relationship with Readers' Digest.  Not just their magazine or their condensed books, but with the company itself. He was always convinced he had won their latest sweepstakes and his big-dollar prize was just around the corner.  It was a bit of a family legend.  

Recently an older friend, who had celebrated a 90th birthday a few months back, called to ask for help in filling out forms for the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes.  Over the years my friend had purchased various items from PCH, including a set of solar lights that never worked properly.   The odds of actually "winning" the PCH sweepstakes are astronomically high.  My friend thought buying something would increase the odds of winning no matter how often I explained over the years that was not true.  Sometimes new "stuff" would appear in the mail, along with a corresponding bill for the "order."  It was hard to know whether my friend had actually ordered the items.

This time, my friend was thrilled to explain the long-awaited victory was almost here -- as the latest mailing "guaranteed" the check would be arriving by mail and all that was needed was timely confirmation by return mail of a willingness to accept the prize.  Two envelopes were provided to help in "claiming" the victory.  

I walked patiently through the colorful documents with my friend, pointing out all my examples of clever language.   I showed my friend a copy of a case, Harris v.  Publishers Clearing House, an unofficially reported  federal decision from 2016, that described another person who also thought he had won for the exact same reasons as my friend. The prize never came. He was suing -- without the benefit of an attorney --  for breach of contract, fraud, and alleged violations of Deceptive Mail Prevention and Enforcement Act, 39 U.S.C. Section 2001 et seq.  But the judge ruled against him, dismissing the case with prejudice while explaining the language in the letters "merely informed the plaintiff that he had a chance to win. . . . "  

My friend seemed to understand what I was saying.  My friend asked my opinion -- "what should we do?"  I suggested we tear up the letters and throw them in the trash.  My friend put the documents -- untorn -- in the waste can.  We talked about the fact that continuing to participate with this company was wasting money, and was also an example of "feeding the troll," encouraging the company to keep sending those "too-good-to-be-true" letters to other people.   We  ended our discussion with a good hug.

The next morning I stopped by to drop off newspapers and a fresh donut.  As I waited for my friend, I saw the top of two "official" envelopes addressed to Publishers Clearing House peeking out of the top of the home's mail box for pick up -- with fresh stamps.   I couldn't help but sigh.  

Here is a link to a science-based discussion about early assessment of cognitive impairment, and the importance of histories provided by a reliable informant or care partner for diagnostic assessment.  Victimization in scams is one of several behavioral examples listed in the article that can point to changes in cognition, associated with the loss of the ability to evaluate risk or odds of winning. 

Isn't it sad that it might be easier to diagnose cognitive impairment than to get a ruling finding deceptive trade practices?  

November 6, 2022 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Justice Department Expands Strike Force to Protect Older Americans from Fraud

The U.S. Justice Department issued a press release yesterday, announcing the expansion of its Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force.  The Strike Force was organized in 2019, involving the Justice Department's Consumer Protection Bureau,  U.S. Attorneys Offices, the FBI, Homeland Security, and -- I was interested to see -- the United States Postal Inspection Service

I've actually worked with the Postal Inspector on an elder fraud case.   A woman in her 90s was mailing an unusually fat envelope and asked a friend to give her a ride to a local branch of the post office.  The friend, knowing the woman was quite frail when walking unassisted, offered to get the postage, or to accompany her, but the older woman, who the friend thought seemed unsure of herself, declined.  The friend thought about this, was alerted by what struck her as unusual behavior, and called the woman's daughter and explained what had just  happened. 

The daughter had dismissed a home caregiver recently after learning the caregiver was asking her mother for -- and receiving --  two  or more "pay checks" per week, as well as asking for additional cash that seemed to disappear in mysterious ways.  The daughter went to the post office with a copy of a certified Power of Attorney, granted to her by her mother several years before she was diagnosed with multiple conditions, including cognitive issues, following a stroke.  In fact the reason the caregiver had been hired was precisely because the mother was vulnerable and sometimes confused. 

The Post Office at first seemed to be reluctant to take action, but the daughter was able to describe the envelope and also to provide the name of the former employee who had already been fully paid for his work, and had signed a receipt to that effect. The Post Office's worker agreed to search, but when the daughter departed, it seemed unlikely any action would be taken.  That is, it seemed unlikely until the next day, when a representative of the Postal Inspector set up an appointment.  Having identified and been given the daughter/agent's permission to open the envelope, the federal authorities found several hundred dollars in the envelope that was, indeed, addressed to the former worker.  The officers interviewed the mother and then went to see the suspect, who claimed it was merely an additional paycheck that was "owed."  He  claimed the mother was fully supportive of giving him cash, but he was unable to explain the receipt he'd signed, the burner phones he had used to call the woman, nor the many "payments" he'd received in the last 60 days, payments that the daughter had since documented as more than tripling his agreed wage rate during that period. 

I'm the daughter; my 90+ mother was the person defrauded.  (She has since passed away, so I feel more able to tell this story.)  I learned the Postal Service already understood such a fact pattern very well.  Even at that time, several years ago, the official investigating the facts told us that similar transactions happened all too often.  It is good to see, with this latest press release, that the U.S. Justice Department is coordinating authorities on enhanced fraud prevention and recovery efforts in support of elder justice.  

My thanks to Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Amy Gaudion at Penn State Dickinson Law, who shared the Justice Department notice with me, and whose own research focuses on national security and privacy issues.  

October 5, 2022 in Consumer Information, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Widener Univ. Commonwealth Law School's Clinical Students to Serve as Monitors in Pennsylvania Guardianship Program

Mary Catherine Scott, Director of the Central Pennsylvania Law Clinic at Widener University Commonwealth Campus, has recently partnered with Dauphin County Orphans' Court in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to expand her clinical students' opportunities for service. Law students will now have roles as monitors in guardianship cases, seeking to maximize the interests of protected persons.  The Pro Bono Guardianship Monitoring Program was begun in central Pennsylvania by the Honorable Todd Hoover, and is now overseen by Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Engle, involving as many as 400 active cases.  The monitor program is another component of the Pennsylvania courts' enhanced protections for older persons and other persons found to be in need of certain assistance.  Pennsylvania also has a state-wide Guardianship Tracking System

Elder-Justice-Consortium (1)This is another example of expanding services to older adults in Pennsylvania, an outgrowth of the Elder Justice Consortium, supported by representatives of all nine law schools in Pennsylvania.    

October 5, 2022 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Property Management, State Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 12, 2022

A Model for Other States? Pennsylvania's Law Schools form Consortium in Active Support of Elder Justice

Elder-Justice-Consortium (1)Faculty members representing all nine law schools in Pennsylvania have joined together in a unique effort.  The inspiration was communications initiated by jurists in the Pennsylvania Courts, especially Supreme Court Justice Debra Todd, promoting the need for sound legal advice and representation for older persons. The purpose of Pennsylvania academics' new Elder Justice Consortium is to identify, examine, and seek to alleviate challenges and difficulties facing diverse older populations across the Commonwealth. 

This mission will include support for direct legal services for older adults, sometimes through law school clinics or service projects, as well as "pop-up" outreach and educational modules that focus on older adults in underserved communities and regions.  

Duquesne University School of Law Assistant Professor Katherine L.W. Norton, who also serves as the director of clinical legal education programs at her school, is serving as the inaugural chair of the Consortium.  During the summer of 2022,  more than fourteen faculty members met regularly to identify ways that law schools can effectively increase our support and commitment to "elder justice."  Professor Norton reports the group invited guest speakers from IOLTA (Interest on Lawyer's Trust Accounts) and the SeniorLAW Center in Philadelphia to share their ideas on funding and needs, as well as seeking a legislative update on guardianship law reforms from Patrick Cawley, an Elder Law attorney from central Pennsylvania who earlier served as counsel for an influential committee in the Pennsylvania Senate.  Members of the consortium also exploring joining an amicus team in a case to be argued before the United States Supreme Court in November. The case addresses whether residents of nursing homes have the right to enforce key provisions of the federal Nursing Home Reform Amendments (OBRA 1987) via direct suit under Title 42, United States Code, Section 1983.  

The Consortium's next step will be for the Deans of the nine law schools to meet in September 2022 in Philadelphia with representatives of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and other interested parties to discuss programming options and priorities for action with the support of our law schools.  Stay tuned, and let us know whether Law Schools in your state have similar teams on behalf of older people.

September 12, 2022 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Federal Cases, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Cases, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and CMS Jointly Caution Nursing Homes and Their Debt Collectors on Their Practices

Today, my Conflict of Laws class and I watched a live-streamed hearing involving "choice of law": "state" (about contracts) versus "federal law" (prohibiting practices affecting contracts)  The context is a bit dramatic and definitely overdue for action. Dickinson Law Class Observes Federal Hearing on Propriety of Nursing Home Debt Collection Practices

On the same day as the public hearing, which was hosted by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) for panelists to identify concerns about certain debt collection practices used by nursing homes against the family members and others, CFPB and the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a "notification letter."  The letter, dated September 8, 2022 and addressed to "Nursing Facilities and Debt Collectors," details improper practices under federal law, such as asking "third parties" to sign documents that, in effect, serve as  personal guarantees of payment of nursing homes.  Without those guarantees, the nursing home may deny admission or continued care.  However, the third parties are often family members or even mere "friends," who may be trying to help get care, but who have little knowledge of the resident's personal finances or eligibility for Medicare or Medicaid, and who may not understand the risks of "agreeing" to sign the contracts.  

I began writing about this problem years ago in a series of articles.  In "The Responsible Thing to Do About Responsible Party Provisions in Nursing Home Agreements," I focused on misleading attempts to have someone agree to be a "responsible party" for purposes of the resident being admitted, without the signer's full understanding that the signature may be construed by state courts as a promise to pay if the resident cannot pay personally or does not qualify for Medicare or Medicaid payments.  See also "Traps for the Unwary in Nursing Home Agreements."

Recent studies conducted under the auspices of Kaiser Family Foundation (at KHN) provide additional examples of the hardships on families and friends. Unfortunately, the problems with attempts to hold third-parties liable for costs of nursing home care have become more intense with Covid-19 crises affecting long-term care.  Indeed, one of the pandemic-influenced contracting practices that adds to the problem is use of "on-line signing processes" for these contracts.  As family members were often not even present during the admission's process, nursing homes are increasingly turning to e-signatures. The swift moving electronic process for initials and virtual signatures all too easily flies by without any true reading, much less understanding, of the documents and with close to zero likelihood the signers will be able to ask questions (such as "Do I have to sign this?" or "What happens if I don't sign this?") and gain accurate answers.  Nursing homes deserve to be paid for their care -- but the right way to do this is to involve people who can help the families apply for benefits under Medicare or Medicaid, and who won't insist on private pay if the resident's resources are too low to support such pay.   

In my experience, thoughtfully-managed, well-run nursing homes definitely exist.  They get sound business and legal advice and know that is more cost effective to help families through the process than sue them when the documents are not understood.  Experienced elder law attorneys, including specialists in Legal Services offices, can help too.  But while reading the KHN report linked above, too often I was seeing "default judgments" involved here -- and in those instances, that usually means a lack of informed agreement on the part of signers or that the admission processes are otherwise not working properly.   

September 8, 2022 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare, State Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Pennsylvania Bar Associations Issue Joint Guidance re Flat Fee Billing by Attorneys

Recently Pennsylvania Bar Association and Philadelphia Bar Association legal ethics committees issued a Joint Formal Opinion addressing ethical considerations in the handling of several related forms of billing for services:  flat fee, earned upon receipt, and non-refundable fees. Elder Law attorneys use various forms of such billing. 

On the one hand, clients often want to know up front the full cost for services and thus like flat fee billing.  On the other hand there can be tensions about whether or when such fees are "earned."  The opinion stresses the need for clarity in the client-attorney relationship, so as to assure mutual understanding about when a fee is deemed earned, and to make sure clients are fully advised about the fee structure. With older clients -- and their family members -- it can be especially important to avoid assuming everyone understands mere "labels" for different fee arrangements.

In Joint Ethics Opinion No. 2022-300, the Committees conclude that under Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct and with the guidance of prior opinions:

• Any fee not “earned upon receipt” is deemed an “advance” fee, which may only be deposited into the operating account if the client provides informed consent, confirmed in writing, in accordance with Rule 1.15(i); and,

 

• When a fee is deemed to be “earned upon receipt,” attorneys may deposit the fee into an operating account rather than a Rule 1.15 IOLTA account or other Trust account, provided that the attorney specifically states in the fee agreement that the fee is intended to be nonrefundable and earned upon receipt.

Hat tip to Rob Clofine, elder law attorney extraordinaire, for sharing this with Pennsylvania lawyers.  

August 18, 2022 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Legal Practice/Practice Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

More from Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court on Charitable Tax Exemption for CCRC

On August 3, 2022, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court issued its latest ruling in the long-running case of Friends Boarding Home of Western Quarterly v. Commonwealth,  with an en banc opinion rejecting Friends Home's exceptions to the appellate court's earlier three-judge panel ruling.  The full court focuses closely on the use of residents' fees to operate the Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) and the argument that because "some" residents receive subsidized care the facility is donating the necessary "substantial" portion of its services.  For example:  

Between 2014 and 2017, Friends incurred annual operating losses between $386,620-$542,652. In 2018, Friends had an operating deficit of $265,569 and for 2019, $790,069. Friends maintains that these deficits lend additional support that Friends’ rates contain substantial subsidies that benefit all residents, such that it satisfied the requirement that it donates or renders gratuitously a substantial portion of its services.

 

We recognize that Friends incurs operating deficits that it covers with funds generated from investments and contributions. However, Friends’ argument that its operating deficits prove that it donates a substantial portion of its services by subsidizing all rates is once again refuted by the fact that there are for-profit facilities in the vicinity of Friends Home providing similar services at comparable rates. Even though Friends may incur operating deficits, it has not demonstrated that it donates “a substantial portion of its services” “to those who cannot afford the ‘usual fee.’” HUP, 487 A.2d at 1315 n.9. Thus, we discern no error in the conclusion reached [by the Panel] in Friends Boarding Home in this regard.

My Pennsylvania colleague Douglas Roeder and I recently co-authored an article about the ongoing challenges for nonprofit organizations, especially those who offer fee-based services.  The latest ruling from the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court would seem to deepen the need for certain nonprofits who seek "purely charitable" tax exemptions to carefully consider their charitable mission.  I'm also thinking that nonprofit CCRCs would also be well advised to have candid discussions of their charitable missions with both potential residents and current residents.  Ultimately,  it will be the more solvent residents who make up the difference in support of the charitable mission.  

August 3, 2022 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Housing, Retirement, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 28, 2022

No Arbitration Where Care Center Resident Blind, Medicated, and In Pain, Plus More

The Insurance Journal ran this article recently, Nursing Home Denied ‘Unconscionable’ Arbitration Where Patient Was Blind, Alone. The arbitration agreement in question was "to settle e a family’s wrongful death complaint where the arbitration papers had been signed by the deceased woman when she was blind, on medication and in severe pain."  It wasn't just that, though for which "[t]he Pennsylvania Superior Court ... upheld a trial court in finding that the arbitration agreement was 'unconscionable....'"   In addition, the resident "was alone when she was asked to sign the arbitration agreement, ... was not given a chance to read it and other admission documents before signing, ... was not given a copy of the agreement after she signed, even though it permitted her to rescind within 10 days, and the ... admissions director did not read or explain all of the arbitration agreement’s provisions."

Thanks to Morris Klein for sending me the article.

July 28, 2022 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 25, 2022

Do Federally Exempt Nursing Homes, Assisted Living, and Continuing Care Communities Also Qualify as "Institutions of Purely Public Charity?"

The latest in a series of senior-care related cases is making  its way through the Pennsylvania appellate courts, asking whether a federally tax exempt senior living facility -- one that offers a range of options including independent living, "supported" independent living, personal care, and skilled care, although it isn't licensed as a CCRC -- can also qualify for state property and sales tax exemptions. 

Pennsylvania, in ways similar to many states, allows a federal charitable tax exemption under Rev. Code Section 501(c)(3) to serve as the basis for state exemptions from income taxes, but a separate state statute sets tougher requirements to qualify as a "purely public charity" in order to avoid responsibilities to pay real property, sales and use taxes.  July 2022 PBQ Article on State Tax Exemptions.CoverNursing homes, intermediate care settings (such as personal care or assisted living), and continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) often rely on federal revenue rulings that recognize historical grounds to exempt "homes for the aged" from taxation.  See e.g., Rev. Rul. 72-124 (also available at 1972 WL 30720).  But on a fairly regular basis, Pennsylvania taxing authorities have challenged such enterprises as not being "sufficiently" charitable.  Compare, for example In re St. Margaret Seneca Place, 640 A.2d 380 (Pa. 1994) (upholding state tax exemptions for a nursing home) with Appeal of Dunwoody Village, 52 A.3d 408 (Pa. Commw. 2012) (denying state tax exemption for a CCRC).   In September 2021, a panel of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, using a "totality of the circumstances" approach concluded that the facility failed to donate a substantial portion of its services, and failed to show it benefits a substantial and indefinite class of persons who are subjects of charity.  See  Friends Boarding Home of Western Quarterly Meeting v. Commonwealth, 260 A.3d. 1064 (Pa. Commw. 2021).


The case is now under  review for en banc consideration by the full Commonwealth Court, and there are indications the case might go all the way to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.  Working with my former Elder Protection Clinic colleague, Douglas Roeder, Esq., we examine a series of cases and trends under Pennsylvania law, including those involving senior living enterprises,  as reasons to consider larger implications for federal and state exemptions based on charitable grounds.  See Putting the Charity Back in Purely Public Charities (July 2022). 

July 25, 2022 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Retirement, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Oregon AG 6th Annual Elder Abuse Conference Announced

The 6th Annual Oregon AG Elder Abuse conference will be held October 20-21, 2022 in Bend, OR. Conference organizers are seeking proposals. Here is the info

Request for Presentations is NOW OPEN! Presenters at Attorney General Rosenblum’s Annual Elder Abuse Conference are the heart and the soul of this annual event. Each year over 20 professionals with expertise related to elder abuse are selected to present to nearly 200 attendees. If you would like to be a presenter at the 2022 conference, please complete the Request for Presentations by July 1, 2022 and submit it electronically to [email protected].

If you want to submit a proposal, remember the deadline is tomorrow!

June 30, 2022 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

When It Comes to Guns, Age Matters

I suspect I'm not alone in thinking about guns this morning in the wake of the Texas shooting at a grade school in Uvalde Texas.  This post reflects matters I've been thinking about for a long time.  Indeed, thirty years ago I considered making gun violence a core academic research topic, until I realized how potent is the lobby supporting gun sales, and therefore gun ownership.

First, this morning I listened to a young man, David Hogg, speaking to an NPR interviewer about his own frustrations in opposing gun violence.  He urged legislators at state and national levels to do at least "one thing" to move forward on gun safety legislation.  My first reaction was "one thing?"  How is that going to help?  

Second, I heard a bit more about the background of the 18 year old shooter in Texas, as well as the background of the similarly-aged shooter in Buffalo New York.   More memories.  In one of my previous lives, I volunteered for a neighborhood tutoring program in New Mexico.  My first two students, in high school, had been sent to the program by judges trying to help youths in crime-related incidents.  One young man attended once -- and then disappeared.

I managed to have a good session with the other student, a junior in high school, who at my request wrote a short essay about what he saw as his future.  The 500 word piece was quite well written, and gave us something we could definitely use to gently work to improve his reading and writing skills.  The focus, however, proved to be a window into the bleak outlook of a young man who was involved in a so-called gang.  To put it simply, he saw no future for himself after high school.  He said with utter confidence that his high school "had" to graduate him regardless of whether he did any more work, as long as he merely attended class.  I didn't want to believe that, but he had plenty of evidence to support his hypothesis. He didn't have any post graduation plans.  He had equal confidence that he probably wasn't going to make it to age 21.  The following week during our tutoring session, he was creative in his resistance to my role as a tutor.  He turned in his next essay, but it was written entirely in what was some sort of "tagger's script," the stylized script he used when spray-painting his messages on public building.  Tagging was his only crime at that moment.  

I eventually decided to volunteer for younger students, and in fact I had a two-year working student-tutor relationship with a grade school boy who was in the program at his mother's insistence.  Actually, I got to know the whole family, including his parents and a sister who also sometimes attended our reading sessions (and she helped turn reading into a competitive adventure).  To mark the success of his "graduation" from the program, we went to a Phoenix Suns basketball game, because the opposing team that day had a player much admired by my student.  At his comparatively "youthful" age, he had written about his plans for the future, including somehow, against all genetic odds, planning to "grow" tall enough to be a professional basketball player, like his idol, Nate Archibald.  We talked about coaching as an alternative -- just in case.

I remember the difference in these individuals as I listen to the troubled histories of the two "boys" who bought guns as part of their 18th birthday celebrations.  I don't know what happened to most of the other the students involved in the tutoring program.  The second student dropped out of the program for reasons I never learned, but I later saw his name in the newspaper when he was accused of being the driver in a car-jacking where his "friend" shot the woman who resisted having her car taken.  Sadly, that student's essay was prophetic, as any true dreams for a future may have ended with that crime.

So, if we are going to do at least "one thing," could we -- should we -- focus on raising the threshold age for gun ownership?  Should we give young people in their late teens more  time to grow older (and "taller" or more mature) and thus to reach a point where the future seems brighter?  I'm not suggesting they cannot participate in shooting sports, hunting, and the military, where we hope their use and skill building would be supervised by knowledgeable people. I am suggesting making it unlawful for them to "own" or at least to purchase guns until they are older. Research suggests that substantially more crimes of gun violence against others are committed by individuals between the ages of 17 and 21.  There is research to support restricting gun ownership (and therefore gun sales) to individuals over 21 as one step forward in terms of safety. 

For example, in June 1999, a "collaborative report" under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Justice noted in part:

In 1996, 26,040 people in the United States were killed with guns.  In 1997, offenders age 18, 19, and 20 ranked first, second, and third in the number of gun homicides committed.  Of all gun homicides where an offender was identified, 24 percent were committed by this age group, which is consistent with the historical pattern of gun homicides over the past 10 years.  

Other statistics suggest that gun-related suicide death rates are highest for females age 45 to 64 and for males age 75 and older, statistics that point to another form of age-specific gun tragedies. Age matters.

That first boy who "disappeared" after the first tutoring session?  I later learned he had been killed in a neighborhood shooting.  Would younger adults support delayed lawful-ownership as one form of protection against gun violence?   Certainly, more is needed on so many other levels including mental health supports. But could "one thing" -- at least -- include blocking gun sales to people who are still in the process of learning to plan for the future, for their futures?  

 

May 25, 2022 in Cognitive Impairment, Crimes, Current Affairs, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Science, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Residents Are Asking a Lot of Questions -- Tough Questions -- about CCRCs

It is Sunday, and I'm looking at a long list of things to do next week, with grading exams at the top of my list.  Significantly, however, in the last six to eight months, at increasing rates, I'm hearing from current and prospective residents of Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs, also sometimes called Life Plan Communities).  Here are examples of some of the most often asked questions:

  • "The company that runs my CCRC is about to engage in development of a new CCRC.  Is the money I've already paid in the form of an admission fee, or the money I continue to pay as monthly service fees, going to support this new development?"
  • "During the lock-down associated with protecting residents and the public from COVID-19, we were asked to give up services that were the very reason we choose this community.  But now that we are no longer locked down, the services either are not returning or the fees we are charged are actually increasing.  Is there some effective way to object to this disconnect between the promises and the delivery of services?"
  • "My parents are thinking about moving into a CCRC.  On the one hand, I like the idea of the active community they are choosing.  But on the other hand, the amount they are expected to pay in the form of an admission fee is astounding.  Why are some communities calling this a refundable fee and others are saying it isn't a refundable fee? What are the protections for the 'refundable' fee?"
  • "We have just learned that our nonprofit CCRC is being transferred to a for-profit company as the owner-operator.  How is this likely to impact my wife and I as residents?"

Answers to many of these questions depend on the state's laws governing this form of senior living operation and, even more, on the particular contracts between the resident and the provider.  State regulators have concerns here too.  For those looking for legal assistance in their particular community, I sometimes recommend looking for attorneys in the caller's home state, someone who understands CCRCs from a resident perspective. I first wrote about the need for attorneys who understand resident perspectives in 2006.  

Sometimes "elder law" attorneys have this expertise, but not always.  Plus, it can be important to consult with an attorney who understands consumer protection laws, and not "just" CCRC law.  Finally, if litigation is actually on the horizon, the choice for legal advice can depend on whether the attorneys have expertise in litigation or dispute resolution and not "just" contract law. 

So, all of this is a short way of saying that even though, as an legal academic,  I often write about the importance of resident rights in CCRCs, and even though I believe the future of CCRCs is very much tied to the answers, I'm not in a position to respond to individual questions. The very fact that I'm writing this Blog Post is a potential indication that something important could be going on in the industry.  Perhaps that "something" should be addressed by the industry itself, especially if it wants the CCRC concept not just to survive, but thrive.  In my opinion, it is not enough for the industry to say that "every CCRC is different."  

May 8, 2022 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Property Management, Retirement, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

RFP: Washington State Seeks Expert Consultation to Develop CCRC Regulations with Heightened Consumer Protections

I'm always interested when I start getting lots of calls or emails about a certain topic in aging.  Today I was hearing from a lot of people wanting to talk about Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs, sometimes also called Life Plan Communities or LPCs). It is safe to say that all forms of senior living operations are facing new challenges after being hit hard by the lockdowns and staffing problems of the last two years with COVID-19.

But one of the most interesting set of calls was from the State of Washington, where residents have been using their time together during COVID to think carefully about the need for certain key protections for consumers who put their money and trust into CCRCs.  The Washington Continuing Care Residents Association (WACCRA) has worked carefully, calmly and diligently to reach the ears of legislators and regulators in the state.  I had the pleasure of hearing from  members and residents of CCRCs in Washington last October and speaking at their annual meeting.  WACCRA Annual Meeting in Seattle  October 2022 (2)

Today, I heard that the  Office of Insurance Commissioner in Washington has initiated a Request for Proposals for a time-sensitive research project:

This project is designed to assess federal and state authorities regulating continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) and provide a report with recommendations on creating a legal framework for shared regulatory oversight of CCRC products under Chapter 18.390 RCW, which may achieve heightened consumer protections.

Interested researchers -- with background in regulatory systems for CCRCS -- should act quickly as the deadline for submissions is May 23, 2022.   

Click HERE FOR THE FULL DETAILS!  

May 3, 2022 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Grant Deadlines/Awards, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Retirement, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (1)