‘Ruthie’s Law’ moves forward

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — When she was alive, Ruth Murray was known as a helper — helping her family, always there for her grandkids and daughters.

It’s fitting, Murray’s family says, that the Erie County Legislature is considering ‘Ruthie’s Law’ in their mother’s name. They hope the law will prevent the horror Murray’s family went through last summer.

“It’s going to make something horrible turn into something positive, to make sure this never happens again,” said Murray’s daughter Carol Kuszniaj.

The 82-year-old Murray slipped away undetected after breakfast the morning of Aug. 26 and wandered into a man’s room on the dementia floor at Emerald South.

He mistook her for an intruder, and a News 4 investigation found it was far from the first time he had been violent.

He beat Murray severely, but medical transfer records show the staff reported it was just an altercation, and she had scratches and a hematoma, or bruise, on her back.

She died from her injuries less than two days later.

“I’m just thankful that I got to the hospital and my mother was still alive, because the way that they played this off is that she had minor injuries after an altercation and she was going to be released after an evaluation,” Kuszniaj said. “My mom didn’t go there to die. She went there to live off her disease. She went there to live the best that she can in a secure environment. It’s just not right. It’s going to happen to all of us eventually. We’re going to have to have someone to take care of us.”

The New York State Department of Health leveled its stiffest fine against Emerald South, and forced it to come up with a corrective plan.

The new law would force nursing homes to report within two hours residents’ injuries to their family or guardians.
It would also create a countywide database of problems at local nursing homes.
And it would give the county greater power to subpoena nursing home records.

“I think it’s great that every legislator signed on as a supporter,” said Legislator Patrick Burke, D-Buffalo. “The reality is that all of us will have this anxiety to put a loved one in a nursing home at some point, and we have the anxiety because deep down we know there are problems with them. It’s not to single out the industry as a whole or one nursing home or another, but there are real challenges.”

But legislators had questions about the proposed subpoena rule, and why such power should be given to the commissioner of senior services, when it’s a tool already available to the county attorney.

Burke said he was surprised by the number of questions from members of the health and human services committee, given the proposal’s wide support.

“It was an odd day in the legislature, I would say,” he said.

The only opposition thus far is coming from LeadingAge New York, New York State Health Facilities Association, LeadingAge Western New York and NYSHFA District 10, which sent a letter to the legislature on Tuesday. The groups represent nursing homes and senior centers across the state.

The groups told the legislature the law “would be unenforceable since it proposes to create reporting requirements, subpoena authority and enforcement mechanisms affecting nursing homes that are under the statutory jurisdiction of the federal and state governments.”

The proposal still needs to be placed on the docket for a public hearing and final approval by the full legislature. It has yet to be scheduled.

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