Wednesday, April 22, 2009

'Kill Old People Cheap' Amended to Raise Punitive Damages to $500K

Posted By on Wed, Apr 22, 2009 at 9:48 AM

Tip-toeing in the right direction Tuesday, the House Civil Practice and Procedure Subcommittee voted in favor of increasing punitive damages nursing home residents and their families can seek to $500,000, up from $300,000. They also added a proviso that would exclude criminal acts from a damage cap.

The bill itself, however, failed to make it out of committee.

The ChooseCare PAC and the nursing home industry certainly had the deck stacked, with pretty much every seat in the house filled by nurses in white coats. There may have been a nurse aide or two in the crowd, but they get paid so poorly I can't imagine too many would be interested in standing in defense of an industry that works them so much and pays them so little.

It's clear that the industry has made this a nurses vs. out-of-state trial lawyers issue, drawing some loose connection between damages paid out by nursing homes and staffing and wages. They've deluded these nurses into thinking, "Hey, if we get sued less, you'll get more help and maybe even get paid more."

What's worse, a serious victim complex seems to have crept into the brains of these nurses who show up to subcommittee meetings en masse--who's taking care of the patients in their absence, by the way, if they're so overworked and understaffed because of frivolous litigation?

"We're being called Nurse Ratchets, we're being called criminals," yelled, literally, yelled registered nurse Marilyn McClain, the industry's pawn, to thunderous applause and righteous anger from the white coats behind. They were admonished about clapping and yelling out in support of each statement made by McClain by subcommittee Chairman Brian Kelsey. Rep. Kent Coleman even asked that the sergeant-at-arms remove the next person who violated decorum.
See, here's the problem with their logic: Texas did the same thing Tennessee is contemplating, and according to testimony from Daniel Clayton at the Tennessee Association for Justice, that didn't lead to increased staffing at nursing homes. In fact, the number of "deficiencies" in Texas nursing homes went up. The number of hours per nurse, per patient, went down. Sounds like the damage caps put money back into the pockets of nursing home corporations, not nurses on the floors of nursing homes.

Whereas in Florida, where there are no caps, they mandated higher staffing levels, addressing the root cause rather than bowing to industry shills who are peddling a bill that would, if Texas is any bellwether, only hurt the elderly in this state.

The corporations who are looking at our old folks as assets or commodities are pleading poverty, claiming they spend $4,500 per bed defending against lawsuits--a number Rep. Jon Lundberg, one of the bill's sponsors, opened the meeting with. Lundberg is the representative from Bristol, in whose backyard some pretty egregious stuff was alleged to have happened at one of National HealthCare Corp.'s nursing homes. NHC, by the way, is one of the bill's most vociferous supporters.

The study that produced that $4,500 figure, conducted by AON Global Risk Consultants on the dime and at the behest of the industry, is not exactly what you'd call independent or third party. In fact, AON provides specialty insurance and other services to nursing homes. And if the costs have gone up, it's because of bad care. Nursing homes are getting admissions suspended and more than half in this state are rated below average by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. If their liability is high, there's probably a reason.

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