WASHINGTON, D.C. — After years of legal battles, Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County went before the Supreme Court of the United States on Tuesday, November 8, asking SCOTUS to decide if people can file a federal civil rights claim for violation of the Federal Nursing Home Reform Act, which was enacted under Congress’ Spending Clause power. Simply put, can people receiving care under federal safety net programs, like Medicaid, sue state entities if they believe their civil rights have been violated.
The case started when Susie Talevski sued Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County. HHC manages Valparaiso Care and Rehabilitation Center which is where her father, Gorgi Talevski, lived before he died. In court documents, she claims the facility violated her father's rights by pumping him full of drugs to keep him sedated, not managing his dementia appropriately, and transferring him to a facility further away from his family which led to his decline. Gorgi Talevski died October 6, 2021.
After securing legal wins, giving the Talevski family the right to sue HHC of Marion County, the municipal corporation appealed to SCOTUS to hear their case and give a final ruling on the matter. Policy experts and advocates immediately started sounding the alarms, believing if SCOTUS sides with HHC, it'll strip the rights of millions of Americans to sue state-run entities that administer federal programs.
Protesters confronted the Board of Trustees, which governs HHC, in their last public meeting before the SCOTUS hearing. While allowing people to speak, the board did not comment on the matter even after being questioned by WRTV's Cornelius Hocker.
After hearing each side make their case on November 8, seasoned analysts, court observers, and legal experts came to a conclusion: SCOTUS appeared unlikely to side with Health and Hospital Corporation, undoing decades of legal precedent, allowing Medicaid recipients to sue states. However, the court did appear receptive to a narrower argument: nursing home residents in government facilities may not have the same right to sue states in federal court.
WRTV spoke to Susie Talevski after the hours-long oral arguments. A lawyer herself, she did not speculate on how SCOTUS could rule, but said she was grateful those representing her were able to present the case to the justices.
"Thankful we have our judicial system here where we can present our best arguments to a full court and get an impartial hearing and pray for the best," Talevski said.
She's hopeful this case will improve conditions in nursing homes across the State of Indiana. An Indianapolis Star Investigation found Indiana nursing homes to be some of the worst in the nation. Talevski says she saw that first-hand and doesn't want any other families to go through this experience.
"What I witnessed at Valparaiso Care and Rehabilitation was of grave concern to me, not only as a daughter, but also as a citizen, as an attorney."
Grassroots organizations, like Good Trouble Indiana, continue to push Health and Hospital of Marion County to drop this case. They, along with other groups, held a protest on Monday.
HHC did not have a comment after oral arguments, but prior to that, defended their reasons for asking SCOTUS to hear their case. That statement is below.
The U.S. District court for the Northern District of Indiana found the Federal Nursing Home Reform Act doesn't allow individuals to sue nursing homes or nursing home operators. The goal in appealing this case to the Supreme Court is for the court to hear the case and come to the same conclusion on the law."
The Supreme Court is expected to announce a decision in this case by June 2023.