How tort reform hurts nursing home residents

There is a great editorial by Tamara Hill in the Tennessean.  Here it is in its entirety.

Lawsuits are the only way some nursing homes will provide the services they’re supposed to offer

By TAMARA L. HILL   Tennessee Voices

In response to a letter to the editor by Debra Fish (“Nursing homes are pot of gold to lawyers,” March 5):

Taxpayer money does not line the pockets of attorneys who sue nursing homes for providing negligent care. If the facility is found to be negligent because a civil justice attorney brings its behavior to the attention of the courts and jury system and the facility pays a judgment or settlement, Medicaid and/or Medicare, whichever paid for the negligent care, is reimbursed … meaning the taxpayers are reimbursed when a facility is found negligent, not that the taxpayers’ burden is increased.

It has also been suggested that lawyers “pile on huge sums of money that bankrupt nursing homes and keep money from being spent on improving care for the residents” on top of judgments allowed by judges and juries. This simply is not true. A lawyer cannot force the nursing home to pay more than the judgment or settlement amount.

As a former nursing-home nurse working in administration, there were multiple instances in which I had to beg corporate for things needed to provide basic patient care … soap, shampoo, gloves, bandages, dressings, towels, sheets, equipment and, of course, the staff to actually provide the care. I was often told that it wasn’t in the budget.

Sometimes the ONLY way I could get what I needed for the residents was to say “OK, but if I can’t get what I need for my staff to take care of them, then you are just buying a lawsuit.” Then, suddenly, someone “found” money in the budget to get the things the patient needed. If there were caps, then it would become a cost-benefit risk analysis, weighing a known cost (about 75 percent of the cap) and the savings (benefit) by not providing the staff, supplies and care vs. the risk that someone would take the lawsuit with caps in place.

National HealthCare Corp. is using some of its money in two ways: One is to give bonuses to its corporate employees. Another is to pay lobbyists to convince your state legislators that it needs “liability reform” so that it can’t be held responsible for its negligence.

The proposed bill seeks to put a cap on so-called non-economic damages suffered by nursing-home residents, such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, disfigurement and death. It also seeks to make the cases much more expensive to pursue and defend by placing nursing homes under the Medical Malpractice Act.

Finally, the bill seeks to give nursing homes the ultimate immunity by forcing residents to sign away their right to access to the courts as a condition of admission. How does this protect patients? I submit to you that it does not. It protects nursing-home profits.