Nursing Homes Suing Friends and Family of Residents to Recover Unpaid Debts: Report

As part of its ongoing investigation into how medical debts affect individuals across the country, Kaiser Health News (KHN) and National Public Radio (NPR) have published an article that details how some nursing homes are filing lawsuits to collect on unpaid debts, and the friends and family members of those living in the homes are the ones being sued.

In one New York county, for example, 238 debt collection lawsuits were filed between 2018 and 2021 by the 24 federally licensed nursing homes in the area, seeking to recover $7.6 million in unpaid debts. In two-thirds of those cases, the individuals being sued were a friend or relative of the individual living in the home, according to the report. Most of those people were accused of hiding assets of those who were in the homes.

In many cases, friends or family members are designated as the “responsible party” when the admissions paperwork is signed for an individual who is moving into a nursing home. And while federal law prohibits nursing homes from even requesting that a friend or relative guarantee an individual’s debts, the documents are often slipped into the mountain of paperwork that needs to be filled out and signed.

Children of individuals living in nursing homes are a more “appealing target” than the individuals themselves because the children are likely to have more assets and can have wages that can be garnished, according to the report.

“The level of aggression that nursing homes are using to collect unpaid debt is severely increasing,” said Lisa Neeley, a Massachusetts elder law attorney, in the report.

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