No Grandma-You Can’t Demand Only White Caregivers at the Nursing Home

An interesting discrimination issue has arisen lately
in the context of nursing homes. It has become a battle between residents and
nursing home caregivers in many states including Indiana where the newest case
arose. Apparently, in many instances, elderly nursing home residents are
demanding that their caregivers only be of certain races.

 A federal appeals court in Indiana has ruled that a
nursing home cannot honor patients’ requests for caregivers based on race. The
case — which pitted nursing home residents’ rights against discrimination law —
establishes that there may be a limit to a nursing home resident’s right to
choose a health care provider.

 An African-American, worked at Healthcare Center in
Indiana as a certified nursing assistant. The nursing home housed a resident
who said she did not want to be assisted by African-American nursing
assistants. In response, the nursing home’s daily assignment sheet instructed
the assistants that the resident preferred “no black” aides, and the nursing
home banned from African-American’s assisting her. The nursing home claimed it
was following state law, which provides that nursing home residents have a
right to “choose a personal attending physician and other providers of
services.”

 The African-American went along with the policy for
awhile, but after she was fired she sued the nursing home for employment
discrimination, arguing that its practice of honoring the racial biases of its
residents was illegal and created a hostile work environment. The lower court
ruled in favor of the nursing home, finding that its policy was reasonable
based on its belief that ignoring the resident’s preferences would have
violated state law.

 The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit
reversed the lower court’s decision, and ruled that the nursing home’s policy
of allowing patients to dictate care providers based on race violated federal
employment discrimination law. According to the court, the Healthcare facility “acted
to foster and engender a racially-charged environment through its assignment
sheet that unambiguously, and daily, reminded [African-American] that certain
residents preferred no black CNAs.”

 According to some elder rights organizations, this
issue has been coming up regularly in almost every state in the United States.
The federal appeallate court has now sent the message that discrimination laws
trump the rights of elderly nursing home residents.

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