Families give emotional testimonies in support of Ruthie’s Law at public hearing

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)- The family of a nursing home patient who died after a violent attack wants Erie County lawmakers to hold nursing homes more accountable. The Legislature held a public hearing on “Ruthie’s Law” Tuesday evening.

Ruth Murray’s family told News 4 that in August 2016 she was an Alzheimer’s patient at the Emerald South Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center. She wandered into the room of a man with dementia, he mistook her for an intruder. Murray was beaten up.

“It was just horrific,” said Carol Kuszniaj, her daughter. “The lies, it was just horrible what they told me happened and what I walked in on.”

Her family said the facility didn’t properly inform them about how serious the incident was. Murray died less than two days later. The NYS Department of Health fined Emerald South.

“I don’t want any family to ever go through what my family has gone through,” said Kuszniaj.

She is pushing for the Accountability in Nursing Homes law, also known as Ruthie’s Law. It’s being considered by the Erie County Legislature.

It would hold nursing homes accountable by requiring them to notify family members within two hours of an injury, require reports of injuries to the County Commissioner of Senior Services, make quality reviews more available, and allow the Commissioner to subpoena for information.

At the public hearing, other families tearfully shared stories of waiting for answers at other local facilities.

“Nobody ever wants to see anything bad like that happen to a nursing home patient or anybody,” said Randy Gerlach, the District 10 president of the NYS Health Facilities Association. He is also an administrator for the Schofield Care Residence in Kenmore.

He told News 4 this law won’t be enforceable because there are already state and federal regulations in place that are stricter than Ruthie’s Law.

“There’s not a need to duplicate those,” he said.

Gerlach said lawmakers should instead focus on increasing the number of available place for people with behavioral problems to live.

County Legislator Peter Savage said the Legislature will look at that but it doesn’t mean Ruthie’s Law shouldn’t also be on the books. He was the only legislator at the public hearing.

“We heard information about other laws that may be applicable but clearly they’re not all working or we wouldn’t have had the experiences we heard about today so I intend to vote for it,” said Savage.

He is one of the sponsors of the law.

It is currently in the Health Services Committee, which meets on Thursday. The Committee will decide whether to move it forward to the full legislature for a vote.

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