For more than two decades many nursing homes in various US states have allowed the patients to discriminate against caregivers based on the color of their skin.
When Brenda Chaney found an Indianapolis, Indiana nursing home patient on the floor, helpless to get up, she was not allowed to assist the woman, despite being a certified nursing assistant for the nursing home.
The patient had made a legal request under the 1987 Nursing Home Reform Law to not allow any black caregivers to touch her. She insisted on only being cared for by whites, and the nursing home felt legally bound to abide by the blatant discrimination.
Chaney, 49, and a single mother who was helping to put her son through college said she went along with the discrimination policy at first because she needed the income. But after this particular incident, she filed a lawsuit in 2008.
Documents in Chaney's lawsuit said her "daily assignment sheet at Plainfield Healthcare Center always included the reminder that one patient in her unit 'Prefers No Black CNAs.' "
A federal court has now ruled that Chaney's civil rights were violated, bringing attention to a troubling "consequence of the patients' rights movement that swept the nation's health care system over the last two decades."
When US Congress enacted the Nursing Home Reform Law in 1987, it was meant to protect against widespread abuse of nursing home patients. Many states, including Indiana, made even stronger regulations that ended up giving nursing home residents more rights than anyone else.
"We were taught that residents' rights were paramount," said Janet McSharar, a representative for the nursing home where Chaney worked.
"Under federal law, nursing home residents are free to choose their own physicians. Indiana's law is broader, saying patients can choose their 'providers of services.' Both laws say nursing homes must reasonably accommodate residents' individual needs and preferences," Yahoo News reported.
David Smith, a Drexel University professor who has studied racial integration in hospitals and long-term care centers, said: "You've got to remember the nursing home residents grew up in the time of Jim Crow, even in the North. They regress back."
Courts have allowed patients' refusals of being treated by caregivers of the opposite sex, "citing privacy issues." But the ruling last month by 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chaney's case says not allowing someone of another race to care for a nursing home resident is beyond bounds.
"The privacy interest that is offended when one undresses in front of a doctor or nurse of the opposite sex does not apply to race," the ruling said.
Indiana state health officials will be notifying all nursing homes in the state of the new court ruling. This will most likely become a nationwide policy for all USA nursing homes.