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Push to enact new protections in nursing homes embraced by county lawmakers

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

Erie County legislators are lining up in support of a proposed law intended to protect senior citizens living in assisted care homes. The Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee discussed the proposal, known as "Ruthie's Law."

The law was proposed in March by Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, in response to an incident involving the death of a senior citizen at a local nursing home. Ruth Murray suffered fatal injuries after she wandered into the dementia area of the Emerald South Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Buffalo. She was assaulted by another resident and died hours later in a nearby hospital as a result of her injuries. 

The proposed legislation, known as "Ruthie's Law" in her memory, requires nursing homes to notify legal guardians within one hour of an injury if hospitalization is required. The proposed law, as written, gives the County Attorney the power to subpoena and review nursing home injury reports.

Erie County Legislator Patrick Burke expressed early concerns about some of the language contained in the bill. But Burke said he is satisfied with the answers he received and  has joined numerous peers from both sides of the political aisle to support the effort.

"The reality is all of us will have this anxiety to likely put a loved one in a nursing home in some point in our lives," Burke said. "We have the anxiety because we all know that, deep down, there are problems within them. That's not to single out the business in general or one nursing home over another, but there are real challenges. The more transparency we can have, the more protections we can have, the better."

In attendance at Thursday's Legislature Health and Human Services Committee meeting was Carol Kuszniaj, daughter of Ruth Murray. She recalled the day her mother was attacked and taken to a nearby hospital. Her family was not aware of the extent of her injuries until her sister, who was calling from out-of-town, was informed that it was more than just a bump to the head.

Kuszniaj said she is thankful she was able to get to the hospital before her mother passed away.

"I just can't believe that someone can get away with that, that my mom could have died there at the nursing home and they just played it off as a minor altercation and she'd be released soon after evaluation," she said. "They knew better."

But Kuszniaj stated that her hope is that her mother's tragic story will lead to passage of the law named in her memory so that no other families may endure a similar situation.

The next step in the process is for a public meeting. Once that is scheduled and hosted, lawmakers can vote to pass Ruthie's Law.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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