Recent Court Cases

MAY 15, 1995 VOLUME 2, NUMBER 45

Court decisions from other states may give only indirect guidance on Arizona legal problems. Two recent cases suggest possible concerns for advocates for the elderly.

Nursing Home May Not Exclude Aggressive Patient

Fair Acres Geriatric Center, a county-operated intermediate care nursing home in Pennsylvania, decided it could not admit Margaret Wagner. Ms. Wagner was a demented patient inclined to screaming, agitation and aggressive behavior. Fair Acres decided that Ms. Wagner’s admission would have violated its policy against admitting psychiatric patients.

Ms. Wagner’s attorney argued that the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 required Fair Acres to admit her. Since Ms. Wagner was otherwise qualified for admission, Fair Acres’ denial was based on her disability. And since Fair Acres received federal funds, the Rehabilitation Act prohibited the facility from discriminating against Ms. Wagner.

The Federal Court of Appeals upheld the jury verdict requiring Ms. Wagner’s admission. The court specifically found that Fair Acres had failed to show that Ms. Wagner would impose an undue burden on the facility, despite evidence that she was “a challenging and demanding patient.”Wagner v. Fair Acres Geriatric Center, 3rd Circuit Ct. Of Appeals, March 15, 1995.

OBRA Recovery Statute Not Retroactive

Arkansas (like Arizona) adopted a new estate recovery program after the federal OBRA ’93 requirement that states do so. OBRA was effective August 13, 1993; Arkansas’ statute was effective August 15, 1993.

When Helen H. Wood died in October, 1993, the Arkansas Medicaid agency made a claim against her estate for the cost of her care from December, 1991, until her death. Her estate argued that the estate recovery program could not be applied retroactively, and that only the cost of the last two months of her care could be recovered.

Arkansas’ Supreme Court agreed with the estate, finding that the statute created a new legal right and could not be extended back in time. (Arizona has not made any effort to make its estate recovery program retroactive, but this case suggests that any such attempt would fail.) Estate of Wood v. Arkansas Dep’t of Human Services, Arkansas Supreme Court, March 6, 1995.

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