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Unions could be responsible for nursing home neglect

Two nursing home providers have filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in New Jersey accusing two of the largest health care labor unions of engaging in a concerted effort to provide substandard care to the providers' patients. It is not clear whether the patients themselves have sued as well.

The providers are suing under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. The nursing home staff went on strike in July (which was their right) but are alleged to have sabotaged the nursing homes and exposed their patients to nursing home neglect prior to the strike. Specifically, they are accused of removing patient ID wristbands, dietary stickers and names on the room doors.

They are also accused of tampering with medication records and hiding or damaging blood pressure cuffs and stethoscopes, leaving both patients and replacement workers to fend for themselves.

The suit mentions a 2001 law enforcement investigation that found similar acts of sabotage prior to strikes both in that year and in 1998, although no charges resulted.

Nursing homes may not be the only ones liable for nursing home neglect. Individual workers and even the unions representing those workers could be liable in certain situations. Advocating for worker benefits and pay is an unacceptable excuse for denying residents a reasonable standard of care.

If these alleged acts are true, there could have been any number of damages resulting from medication errors, poor supervision and an inability on the part of replacement workers to provide for the needs of the elderly in their care. Unions and their members who tamper with the quality of care for the elderly may assume liability not only for damages to the residents whom they were supposed to serve.

Source: My Central Jersey, "Care One, HealthBridge nursing homes accuse SEIU affiliates of extortion in RICO lawsuit," Oct. 17, 2012.

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