INDIANAPOLIS — As a little girl, Ernestine Woodson lived by this mantra:
“You respected and honored your seniors.”
That led her to a lifetime of service and care for the elderly, disabled and most vulnerable.
She spent 20 years working in a management role at a nursing home. Then, after a total knee replacement surgery, the caregiver became the care-receiver.
"It gives you a different perspective,” Woodson said.
During her stay, she says she saw how lack of staffing and resources can have a negative affect to those receiving care.
“Sometimes there are residents who we would say ‘can’t talk and can’t tell’ and they’re dependent on their family as well as staff to advocate for them should something happen,” she said.
But what if the ability to advocate for these individuals is taken away?
That’s what’s potentially at stake with Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County, et al., Petitioners v. Ivanka Talevski, Personal Representative of the Estate of Gorgi Talevski, Deceased.
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments for the case on Tuesday.
The justices will try to answer the following question:
Can those participating in federal safety net programs, like Medicaid, sue in federal court if they believe their rights are being violated?
For Woodson, the answer is simple.
“I don’t think things should be ignored just because a resident maybe can’t quote, unquote ‘tell you.’ There are things that occur that family does see and I think that if those things are brought forward, then they need to be addressed,” she said.
In court filings, Gorgi Talevski's family says he received care at a Health and Hospital Corporation-owned-facility in Valparaiso after being diagnosed with dementia.
It was there his family claims he was abused and neglected — through the use of chemical restraints and involuntary transfers — which later led to his death.
After the U.S Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit determined Talevski’s estate could sue HHC under Section 1983 to enforce the Federal Nursing Home Reform Act, HHC filed an appeal to the nation's highest court.
WRTV reached out to the Health and Hospital Corporation for comment on the case.
We received this emailed response:
"When this case was first heard in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, HHC’s argument prevailed, and the judge found that the Federal Nursing Home Reform Act does not allow individuals a private right of action to sue nursing homes or nursing home operators. The goal in appealing this case to the Supreme Court is for the Court to hear this argument and come to the same conclusion on the law.
HHC’s commitment to quality of care does not change. HHC-owned facilities consistently rank above state and national averages in overall ratings, health inspections ratings, and quality measures by CMS Five-Star Quality Rating System."
If the Supreme Court rules in favor of HHC, it could make it harder for millions of Americans to hold institutions accountable in situations of abuse or neglect.
Rev. David Greene at Purpose of Life Ministries calls this a direct attack on Black Americans.
“Because of poverty, because of economics. Our people are more likely to end up in the nursing homes. We owe it to protect them," Greene said.
Greene demands more transparency, quality of service, and nurses with proper training in these facilities.
And with the hearing happening on Election Day, he fears the public will turn a blind eye.
“There will probably be no discussion of this particular decision, which again speaks to how things are happening from a hidden standpoint if you will. A lack of transparency,” he said.
While the hearing is set for Tuesday, a ruling could come by June of next year.