Erie County discusses lack of enforcement of Ruthies Law

Less than half of area nursing homes are following 2017 law

Mike Baggerman
January 23, 2020 - 4:40 pm

Elderwood Nursing Home. January 10, 2019 (WBEN Photo/Mike Baggerman)

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) - Patience is wearing thin for county lawmakers due to the lack of enforcement of Ruthie's Law, a 2017 law in Erie County that mandates area nursing homes to provide semi-annual reports on incidents related to patients.

Nursing homes in Erie County must report any altercation between patients or staff that results in an injury or any incident where 911 is called or treatment outside of the nursing home is required. Erie County's Department of Senior Service can fine the homes up to $2,000 for violations if there has been a lack of reporting. The law was intended to provide families with more transparency about nursing homes and incidents that occur there.

Despite the good intentions of the law, most nursing homes are not compliant with the law. Only 10 out of 35 nursing homes have completed the semi-annual reports each time since 2017. Nine nursing homes have not given any reports to the county since Ruthie's Law took effect. Others have been inconsistent in providing the semi-annual reports.

SEE WHICH NURSING HOMES ARE COMPLYING WITH RUTHIE'S LAW (VIA ERIE COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF SENIOR SERVICES)

"I want to develop a list of nursing homes that have flat out refused to comply with Ruthie's Law," Senior Services Commissioner David Shenk said. "At that point, I'm going to go forward in conjunction with the county attorney and move forward with enforcement."

Minority Leader Joe Lorigo is among those upset that there has been no enforcement of the law.

"Making nice phone calls and asking these people to comply is not going to get them to comply," Lorigo said. "The only thing they're going to respond to is if we start using the teeth of the law and levying fines."

Shenk, who became the commissioner of the department last May, said additional nursing homes have filed reports since he took over the office. He said a main reason why there has been a lack of reporting is due to the high amount of turnover at nursing homes, but he also said there is unawareness of the law, unclear expectations, and because nursing homes are already filing reports with New York State.

"I am trying to take more of a softball approach and identify who wants to play hardball and we'll play hardball," Shenk told lawmakers.

Shenk also said attorneys for some nursing homes have said they will not comply with Ruthie's Law due to a conflict with New York State law, who argue that Erie County can't make regulations for nursing homes because they are overseen by New York State. One felt Ruthie's Law is a violation of HIPAA, though Shenk said there is no patient identifying information in the law.

"I think the education of Ruthie's Law has been a process for nursing homes," Legislator Lisa Chimera, who is chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, said. "I do think there has been great turnover. Quite frankly, to me, it's shocking that nursing homes aren't comply with this. We're looking at ourselves to see how we can improve. We need to be shocked that we passed legislation to ensure that our most vulnerable residents of Erie County are protected and yet they're not complying. We will get it right."

Shenk said he plans to consult with the county attorney regarding enforcement of the law.

The latest reporting from Erie County nursing homes should be made public in the first week of February.     

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