BALTIMORE -- Many of the admissions contracts used by nursing homes in Maryland contain illegal, contradictory and confusing clauses and "unconscionable waivers" of patient rights, according to a Maryland Bar Association study.
Marylanders are signing contracts replete with clauses that are "outrageous, illegal and unenforceable," apparently because they are feeling guilty about putting family members into homes, said Luther Blackiston, one of the authors of the study.
After a relative enters a home, families are reluctant to complain because they are afraid of reprisals, Blackiston said.
The bar association's soon-to-be-released study, a copy of which was obtained by the Baltimore Evening Sun, was financed by a grant from the federal Legal Services Corp. It surveyed contracts for comprehensive care facilities licensed by the state in October 1985.
Of the 175 contracts examined by a bar association subcommittee:Nearly half misstated the provisions of a Maryland law that requires 30 days' written notice before a patient can be transferred or discharged. About 6 percent illegally required patients to agree to pay private care rates for a set period of time, even if they were eligible for the government's Medical Assistance program. One contract flatly declared that the nursing home "waives all liability for harm done to the patient." Another contract specifically waived the home's responsibility "for breakage or loss of false teeth or eyeglasses," while another warned that a patient could be discharged for "submitting false information."
A lawyer for the American Health Care Association, the national organization representing most Maryland nursing homes, declined to comment on the study until she could read it. But Susan Harris said the association is drafting a set of contract guidelines for its members.
"It's obviously not as easy as a contract between two people sitting in an equal position," Harris said. "The nursing home is the stronger party and may need to bend over backwards."
The most prevalent problems the lawyers found with the contracts were small print and blurry photocopying, which exacerbated tendencies toward confusing language and legal jargon.
"These contracts were confusing to a roomful of lawyers. Imagine what they're like for an elderly layperson," said Charles Sabatino, associate staff director of the American Bar Association's Committee on the Legal Problems of the Elderly and an author of the study.