Arbitration agreement and gavel on a desk.
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A settlement that ends a senior living community’s arbitration agreement “secrecy clauses” is being called a “big win” by Arizona’s top attorney, who said she will move to strike down such clauses from other assisted living operators’ arbitration agreements if they are not removed. A provider advocacy organization, however, maintains that such agreements have their place.

Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes (D) announced the settlement agreement with Senita Ridge, a memory care community on the campus of the Ridges at Peoria Senior Living, on Feb. 27. As part of the agreement, the community will remove requirements for secret arbitration proceedings from all existing and future arbitration agreements.

After Rose Marie Scheske, a former Senita Ridge memory care resident, filed a lawsuit in 2021 against the community alleging abuse and neglect, a judge in October ordered the parties to participate in a confidential arbitration proceeding.

Mayes filed an intervention motion in December against The Goodman Group, the Minnesota-based manager of the community, and Ridges at Peoria, alleging that the confidential arbitration agreement violated Arizona’s Adult Protective Services Act. Although Mayes said that private arbitration can be an effective way to resolve legal disputes, she said that the agreements “cross a legal line when they require the parties to keep allegations of elder abuse secret.”

“This settlement is a big win for the protection of vulnerable adults, because it allows victims to share information with my office and allows me to perform the duties given to me by the legislature,” Mayes said in a Feb. 27 press release. “I urge other assisted living facilities opening in Arizona to remove the secrecy clauses from their own arbitration agreements or my office will intervene to strike them down.”

The Arizona Health Care Association said it supports transparency between families and long-term care operators but that admission and other contracts used by assisted living communities and skilled nursing facilities are “unique.”

“Families and those getting ready to utilize long-term care services and supports should read through these contracts and make sure they understand the nuances within them before signing,” Arizona AHCA Executive Director David Voepel told McKnight’s Senior Living. “The alternative dispute resolution process afforded by the arbitration agreement process can create a more efficient and less expensive method, and perhaps, most importantly, can keep the families’ personal health information and their private family matters confidential and out of the public record.”

Mayes said the Adult Protective Services Act gives her office the right to intervene in any elder abuse case to remedy past harm and prevent future harm to vulnerable adults.

“Assisted living facilities often try to hide their bad acts from the attorney general by resolving disputes in secret arbitrations rather than in open court,” Mayes said. “Those secret arbitrations violate the Adult Protective Services Act because plaintiffs who discover systemic mistreatment of vulnerable adults are blocked from notifying the attorney general of the ongoing risk.”

Mayes also invited anyone who signed an assisted living arbitration agreement with a secrecy clause to contact her office so she can “act to invalidate those secrecy clauses.”

The Goodman Group had not responded to a request for comment from McKnight’s Senior Living before the production deadline.