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U.S. Supreme Court preserves nursing home patients’ rights in Indiana case

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The U.S. Supreme Court has preserved the rights of nursing home patients to sue over medical decisions made by Medicaid.

The justices issued the 7-2 opinion Thursday morning in the case of Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County v. Talevski.

The case threatened to place significant restrictions on the right of families to take legal action against Medicaid and could have forced millions of people to lose access to Medicaid programs.

The opinion, written by Justice Kentanji Brown Jackson, says Medicaid recipients can sue under federal civil rights law.

“By its terms, §1983 is available to enforce every right that Congress validly and unambiguously creates; we will not impose a categorical font-of-power condition that the Reconstruction Congress did not,” Justice Jackson wrote

The case involves Gorgi “Jorgo” Talevski. He’d been living with dementia. The longtime Valparaiso resident died Oct. 6, 2021, at age 85, in a nursing home in Bremen, Indiana, his obituary says.

Talevski entered a Valparaiso nursing home in January 2016. His wife, Ivanka Talevski, sued the nursing home in September 2016, arguing it was not providing proper care. The nursing home then tried to move Gorgi to another facility two hours away. An administrative law judge ruled for the move to be stopped, but Gorgi was never returned to the Valparaiso nursing home.

Ivanka in January 2019 sued again, claiming Valparaiso Care & Rehabilitation, a facility of the Health and Hospital Corp. of Marion County, Indiana, did not provide adequate care and moved her husband to another facility. A federal district court threw the case out because it believed federal law does not allow people receiving Medicaid to sue for damages. An appeals court later ruled the district court was wrong to throw out the case, questioning the use of drugs to restrain him due to discipline or staff convenience, and his move to another care facility.

His daughter Susie Talevski said she was surprised but pleased the decision went in their direction.

“They actually asked for a reversal of about 55 years of civil rights precedent for all spending clause legislation and I was pretty shocked by that,” Talevski said. “So they wanted to disenfranchise 100 million people who are beneficiaries or providers of social safety net programs.”

Had the decision gone the other way anyone receiving federal services could have been prevented from suing if their rights were violated.

“It would have been a catastrophe for the most vulnerable people in our society,” Talevski said. “The disabled, the elderly, sick children, poor mothers.”

Indianapolis City-County Councilors signed a letter asking HHC to withdraw the case from the Supreme Court.

“We don’t try to micromanage the affairs of those boards but in this case, this was so much large than what was happening in Indianapolis, what was happening in Indiana but could spread widespread disaster across the country for civil rights,” said City-County Council Vice President Zach Adamson.

The Health and Hospital Corp. of Marion County says it properly restrained and medicated Talevski. The Marion County government agency operates the Marion County Public Health Department, Eskenazi Health, Eskenazi Health Foundation, Indianapolis EMS, and more than 70 skilled nursing facilities for long-term care in Indiana.