The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently addressed whether a federal district court improperly dismissed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Section 1983) claim premised upon a skilled nursing home resident’s complaint that he was chemically restrained and later transferred and discharged without timely notice in violation of the Federal Nursing Home Reform Act (FNHRA). In Talevski v. Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County (HHC) et al, Gorgi Talevski, through his wife Ivanka, sued HHC, Valparaiso Care, and American Senior Communities, LLC under Section 1983 for violations of FNHRA, 42 U.S.C. § 1396 et seq.
Specifically, Talevski alleged in his complaint against the skilled nursing facility, Valparaiso Care, that it failed to follow FHNRA in several respects including failing to provide adequate medical care, administering psychotropic medicine to chemically restrain him resulting in rapid physical and mental decline, discharging him without the consent of his family or guardian, refusing to fulfill an administrative judge’s order to readmit him, and maintaining a policy, practice, or custom that failed to promote, maintain, or enhance the quality of his and each resident’s life. On appeal, Talevski narrowed the allegations to only two particulars that appear in FNHRA: the right to be free of chemical restraints imposed for purposes of discipline or convenience and his rights related to resident-transfer and discharge procedures, namely his right to remain at Valparaiso Care and to receive timely notice of transfer or discharge.
The issue for the Court was whether Section 1983, a federal law that allows for a private citizen to bring a private claim for damages for civil rights violations, would extend to a claim that a nursing home resident’s rights conferred by the language of a federal statute were violated. The Court noted that FHRNA places minimum standards of care required of nursing-home facilities to qualify for federal funding under the Medicaid program. Medicaid allows states to subsidize, through federal aid, medical assistance to low-income qualifying individuals and families. In return for this funding, the states must adhere to the program’s statutes and regulations, including FHRNA. Along with the specific rules to qualify, FHRNA also includes requirements relating to resident’s rights. The Court emphasized that FHRNA Section 1396r(c)(1)(A) provides that a “nursing facility must protect and promote the rights of each resident, including each of the following rights…(ii) Free from restraints…Restraints may only be imposed—(I) to ensure the physical safety of the resident or other residents, and (II) only upon the written order of a physician that specifies the duration and circumstances under which the restraints are to be used…”