Nursing Home Can't Honor Resident's Request for White-Only Caregivers

A federal 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.

Brenda Chaney, who is black, worked at Plainfield Healthcare Center in Indiana as a certified nursing assistant (CNA). The nursing home housed a resident who said she did not want to be assisted by black 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 Chaney from 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."

Chaney 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, "Plainfield acted to foster and engender a racially-charged environment through its assignment sheet that unambiguously, and daily, reminded Chaney and her co-workers that certain residents preferred no black CNAs."

Tension over patients' rights and race in nursing homes "comes up occasionally in virtually every state in the United States," Steve Maag, director of assisted living and continuing care at the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, told the Associated Press. Now Indiana officials will notify nursing homes there that race discrimination laws trump nursing home residents' rights, and the Chaney case could be cited as precedent throughout the nation.

To read the full case, click here.