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Patient Choice Versus Employee Rights: Conflicting Obligations?

Connecticut Law Tribune

January 24, 2011

Authors: Gary S. Starr, Peter J. Murphy

Nursing homes and hospitals encounter patients who insist on caregivers of a particular race or national origin. Such requests may stem from the shift towards patient-centered care models and the adoption of statutes commonly called a Patient’s Bill of Right, which are designed to provide patients with increased input into their care and management of their affairs.

Connecticut’s Patient’s Bill of Rights contains a broad, detailed set of rights an individual must be informed of prior to their admission or during their stay. Among these rights is the right to voice grievances and “recommend changes to policies and services,” the right to receive quality care and services “with reasonable accommodation of individual needs and preferences,” and the right to “associate and communicate privately with persons of the patient’s choice, including other patients.”

Read broadly, these rights would appear to give patients input on which staff members care for them or interact with them. Recent cases demonstrate, however, that there are limits to a patient’s staffing requests. More specifically, these cases demonstrate that assigning caregivers based on a patient’s racial preferences violate the caregiver’s civil rights, may lead to litigation against the facility, and may cause substantial disruption to a facility’s business operations.

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