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So I'm making my way to the gritty, dank Legislative Plaza pressroom this morning with my coffee and Egg McMuffin when suddenly, there they are again--literally dozens of angry nurses clogging the hallway like a fluffy white cloud. For the second straight day, all these Nurse Ratcheds were looking for lawmakers to lobby in favor of the nursing home industry's Kill Old People Cheap Act. Apparently, they've been convinced by their employers that unless lawsuit damages are capped they'll never get a decent pay raise again. So they really want this bill to become law.
It came up in a House subcommittee this afternoon. There was no vote, but the industry was given time to plead its case. It was quite a show. Nurses packed the hearing room, giving the stink eye to subcommittee members. Shifting uncomfortably in their seats, lawmakers learned that nursing homes are so beleaguered by greedy out-of-state trial lawyers and their ridiculously frivolous lawsuits that they can't afford to care for residents anymore. Nurses go without pay raises. It's so bad some nursing homes can't even pay the milk man.
Here are excerpts from remarks by Jeff Parrish, general counsel for nursing home owner Tennessee Health Management:
"Tennessee nursing homes and their caregivers are in a crisis. This is about much more than dollar figures. It's about protecting our state and our patients. It's about restoring reasonableness. ...
"When encouraged by these out of state trial lawyers plaintiffs hold out for potential jackpot verdicts and turn down reasonable settlements. It costs three times as much to settle cases with these out of state lawyers. It's safe to say we're spending tens of millions of health care dollars that could be devoted to patient care.
"What does it mean to get sued every other week and we can't resolve the cases as fast as they come in? What does it mean to feel like you go to work every day at what I've dubbed the nursing home lawsuit factory? It means that instead of being able to reward our caregivers with raises, historically 5 and 6 percent a year, they've had long periods with no raises. This year we managed to scrape up a whopping 2 percent. It means negative impacts upon their employee health care benefits. This is in a state with the second worst shortage of nurses in the nation. I ask each of you, how can we hire and retain quality nurses to care for your loved ones? These costs mean becoming slow-pay customers to our vendors, the linen suppliers, the milk man."
Funny, but there was no mention of all the money the nursing home industry has spent lobbying for this bill, which essentially says nursing homes would never have to pay more than $300,000 in any lawsuit for abusing grandma.
The industry has dumped more than $134,000 into the campaign war chests of all the many legislators sponsoring the bill. In addition, it has spent roughly $800,000 on lobbyists. That would have paid for a lot of care for residents.