State Supreme Court Justice declares ‘Ruthie’s Law’ unenforceable

State News

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — State Supreme Court Justice Donna Siwek has ruled Ruthie’s Law “unlawful, unconstitutional and unenforceable.”

The law, which also bears the name “Erie County Local Law 2-2017,” was approved by Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz in July 2017. It was enacted to deliver protections for residents of nursing homes who may be the victims of abuse.

It was named after Ruth Murray — an 82-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s disease who, in 2016, died following a fight with another resident of Emerald South Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center.

According to Erie County’s information on compliance with the law, “the Erie County Ruthie’s Law is intended to ensure nursing homes notify the families of its residents quickly after a reportable event and to increase transparency and accountability via semi-annual reporting.”

Reportable events were defined as “any altercation between patients and or staff of a Nursing Home that results in an injury to one or more patients, or any incident in which a patient is injured so severely that an emergency call to 911 and/or treatment outside the Nursing Home is required, or the death of a patient is found to have been connected, even in part, to a negligent act or omission on the part of a Nursing Home.”

According to Justice Siwek’s Tuesday decision, the New York State Health Facilities Association (NYSHFA) previously told Erie County that the law, as proposed, was unlawful and unconstitutional for various reasons.

They say it was “at odds with New York law and would duplicate and conflict with current state and federal requirements.” Additionally, they say it violated the New York Public Health Law, which prohibits local governments from enacting laws that regulate hospitals, which in this case, includes nursing homes.

“[N]otwithstanding the provisions of any general, special or local law, or in any city charter or administrative code to the contrary, no county, town, village or city shall enact and enforce regulations and standards for hospitals.”

New York Public Health Law §2812

“Despite whatever good intentions the Erie County Legislature and County Executive may have had regarding nursing home patient care when Ruthie’s Law was enacted for the reasons set forth herein, Plaintiffs are correct in that Ruthie’s Law is unlawful, unconstitutional and unenforceable,” Justice Siwek says.

Read the decision in its entirety here.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz says the county may appeal the decision.

“The court’s decision to strike Ruthie’s Law is disappointing and will remove a much-needed layer of oversight from nursing home operations. Nursing home residents are among our most vulnerable populations, deserving of as much support and protection as possible.  As we have seen in the past year, locally and on a statewide level, this population is also extremely vulnerable to COVID-19, although the virus’s high lethality for nursing home residents was unjustifiably underreported by the state and only came to light months later. Tragedies like these, as well as the need to ensure safe, secure and healthy living spaces, underscore the need for county oversight and monitoring of these facilities. Erie County will now review potential next steps including a possible appeal.”

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz

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