NYSHFA and nursing homes sue to void Ruthie’s Law

Western New York

The New York State Health Facilities Association and eight local nursing homes are asking a state Supreme Court judge to void Ruthie’s Law, which requires nursing homes to provide Erie County officials with reports disclosing altercations with patients and other data.

The Erie County Legislature enacted Ruthie’s Law in 2017 in response to a fatal beating at Emerald South, which has since closed.

A resident at the nursing home beat to death Ruth Murray in 2016. Ruthie’s Law requires nursing homes to report incidents involving residents to their family members in a timely manner and file semi-annual reports with the county.

Most nursing homes have not complied with the law, which was first reported by WBFO.

As a result, the county legislature wanted to begin fining nursing homes up to $1,000 per violation.

The petition filed by NYSHFA and the nursing homes states that no locality in New York State can regulate nursing homes. That authority is vested solely with the New York State Department of Health, the complaint states.

They are asking a judge to void the law.

“While Ruthie’s Law was undoubtedly enacted with the best of intentions, and Plaintiffs do not question the motives of the legislators nor the County officials seeking to enforce it, the legislators exceeded their authority in enacting it and the County officials have no authority to enforce it,” states the complaint in Erie County Supreme Court.

“It imposes additional, duplicative, redundant, and unnecessary notification and record keeping requirements that are burdensome, costly and in many cases inconsistent with already existing state and federal requirements.”

The nursing homes that want the law voided are Elderwood facilities in Amherst, Cheektowaga, Grand Island, Hamburg, Lancaster and Williamsville, as well as the Schofield Residence and Williamsville Suburban Center.

When the county first introduced the bill in May 2017, NYSHFA and Leading Age New York, both statewide trade associations representing nursing homes, wrote a letter to county officials to warn them that the proposed legislation is at odds with state law and would violate Public Health Law 2812.

The county ignored the warning and adopted the law on June 8, 2017, with Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz signing it into law on July 7, 2017.

On Jan. 21, 2018, the two trade organizations again wrote county officials arguing that the law is unenforceable and pre-empted by state public health law. Another letter was sent in June 2018, offering an opportunity to discuss the legislation in more detail in person.

“Counsel for NYSHF A received no response to said letter, but there was also no effort at the time by Erie County officials to enforce Ruthie’s Law,” the complaint states.

Poloncarz said in a statement Friday that his administration will “defend the law and do not comment on pending litigation.”

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