“I’m trapped in a web of people and lawyers that will exhaust my 50 years of sacrifices and savings…Please, dear God, grant me strength and wisdom to take care of my wife.”

These words were written by Dino Palermo, husband of Lillian Palermo, age 90, who lives in the Mary Manning Walsh Nursing Home in New York.

Mr. Palermo is one of many victims of the latest outrage of the capitalist healthcare system as it applies to frail elderly people and their families.

As reported in the New York Times, the nursing home filed a petition for guardianship over Mrs. Palermo, despite her involved and loving husband. Although eventually Mr. Palermo was ruled the most appropriate guardian for his wife, the nursing home did not withdraw its petition to seek guardianship until Mr. Palermo paid a drastically increased nursing home bill that he had disputed and racked up $10,000 in legal expenses.

In essence, nursing homes are using guardianship lawsuits as a way of strong-arming patients and their families to collect payment. “Guardianship transfers a person’s legal rights to make some or all decisions to someone appointed by the court — usually a lawyer paid with the ward’s money. It is aimed at protecting people unable to manage their affairs because of incapacity, and who lack effective help without court action. Legally, it can supplant a power of attorney and a health care proxy.” (New York Times)

“In a random, anonymized sample of 700 guardianship cases filed in Manhattan over a decade, Hunter College researchers found more than 12 percent were brought by nursing homes.

“At least one judge has ruled that the tactic by nursing homes is an abuse of the law, but the petitions, even if they are ultimately unsuccessful, force families into costly legal ordeals.

“’It’s a strategic move to intimidate,’ said Ginalisa Monterroso, who handled patient Medicaid accounts at the Mary Manning Walsh Nursing Home until 2012, and is now chief executive of Medicaid Advisory Group, an elder care counseling business that was representing Mr. Palermo in his billing dispute. “Nursing homes do it just to bring money.’” (New York Times)

Under capitalism, healthcare and eldercare are simply commodities. It should be a right for elders to retire and live securely, but nursing homes, which are needed to care for elders with the most pressing needs, are run as private businesses. This means that if someone cannot pay, they will be kicked out or the nursing home may seek guardianship to get the money.

“The Palermo case is no different than any other nursing home bill that they had difficulty collecting,” Mr. Nussbaum [the nursing home lawyer] said, estimating that he had brought 5,000 guardianship cases himself in 21 years of practice. “When you have families that do not cooperate and an incapacitated person, guardianship is a legitimate means to get the nursing home paid.” (NYT)

After a lifetime of work, seniors deserve to live out their remaining years in peace and security. A socialist system would guarantee this as a right.