Nursing homes suing friends and families to collect on bills

A recent trend has emerged where nursing homes are attempting to collect on their residents’ unpaid bills by pursuing friends and relatives, even those who have no financial ties to the residents or legal responsibility for them.

Monroe County, New York, home to the city of Rochester, provides a snapshot of this practice. According to reports, 24 nursing homes filed nearly 250 debt collection suits in court between 2018 and 2021, the vast majority of which targeted a friend or relative of the resident. Many of the suits involve aggressive tactics, including baseless accusations of people of hiding residents’ assets. Further, many of the targets had no financial or legal authority to act on the resident’s behalf or pay their bills.

How did this happen? It’s common for a relative or friend to sign admissions papers on behalf of an older relative or sick friend, and sometimes those documents include a clause designating whoever signs as a “responsible party” to help the facility collect payments. This practice is arguably illegal, since federal regulations prohibit homes from requiring a resident’s family or friends to guarantee the resident’s debts, but in some instances people agree to pay to avoid the stress and expense of going to court.

If a nursing home is coming after you for the debt of a friend or family member, you should speak with an attorney experienced with elder law issues. And if you’re thinking of signing anything on behalf of someone close to you, run it by an elder lawyer first.

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