The Miami Herald also had an article on the new tort reform measures in Florida.  "Despite the emotional testimony from the families of nursing home patients who suffered abuses, the bill cleared its last stop on Monday — with a 12-3 vote by the Senate Rules Committee — and is headed to the Senate floor."
Ken Thurston and his sister, Sandra Banning, who have been speaking out against this legislation, told committee members their mother, Virginia, was raped in 2002 at a Jacksonville nursing home by another resident with a history of sexual assaults. The siblings never collected a $750,000 verdict from the owner of the Glenwood Nursing Center (then called Southwood), which was later shut down.  Thurston asked the panel: “Who benefits from this legislation? To put it another way, whose rights are being subordinated and whose are being protected by this bill?”

AARP Florida advocacy manager Jack McRay calls the bill “unnecessary and unconscionable.”
“It’s already exceedingly difficult to get punitive damages in a case,” he said.. Making it even harder to sue for punitive damages “eliminates the deterrent factor for future behavior.”
Since 2001, the state has required that half the funds from punitive damage cases against nursing homes be placed in a trust fund — and that has yet to happen, according to the Agency for Health Care Administration.
 

The Tampa Tribune reported on the new Florida tort reform measures that protect corporate owners and operators of nursing homes for neglect and abuse.  It requires the victims to show "conclusive evidence" of abuse before proceeding with a claim for punitive damages, raising the legal requirement that traditionally exists. Under current law, parties seeking punitive damages must make a “reasonable showing” of the evidence supporting their claim before being allowed to proceed. The bill accelerates the process for parties seeking punitive damages by forcing them to provide “clear and convincing” evidence before being allowed to pursue a claim for punitive damages.

The bill would make it more difficult for families to get their full measure of justice when abuse occurs.  Families also would face a higher standard before proceeding with a punitive claim.  Under the bill being proposed, only nursing home owners found to have “actively and knowingly participated in intentional misconduct” would be liable for punitive damages. That would reward an owner’s ignorance of their own operations. 

"Unlike compensatory damages, which calculate the loss and expense suffered by victims, punitive damages are meant to punish reprehensible conduct and to deter its reoccurrence."

"When the elderly are abused, and families seek compensatory damages from those responsible, the judgments can be limited by the victim’s incapacitation. Punitive damages are the clear and imminent threat that gets the attention of the nursing home operators and owners."

 

 

The West Virginia Gazette reported the Court has denied a new trial in an elderly neglect case that resulted in a $91.5 million jury verdict against Heartland of Charleston nursing home’s billion-dollar parent company.  The Court found that the damage award was appropriately scaled to punish Heartland’s corporate owner, HCR Manor Care, for what the judge called a history of intentionally short-staffing nursing homes to maximize profit.  The Court found that short staffing issues arose as the company sought to keep margins high by hiring as few nurses’ aides as possible. Tax forms presented at trial listed more than $4 billion in revenue in 2009, including $75 million in outright profit.

One nursing care staffer, Tara Boweles, testified during the trial that conditions in the home were "horrible," saying: "I wouldn’t put my dog there." She said patients sometimes would lay in their own urine and feces for hours. Staff supervisor Beverly Crawford testified that employees feared getting fired for reporting patient neglect.

Tom Douglas sued Heartland because his 87-year-old mother died of dehydration complications that stemmed from her 19-day stay at the facility in 2009.  The elderly woman suffered head trauma from several falls and was eventually confined to a wheelchair. Experts said during the trial that staffers at the nursing home also failed to provide the woman with basic needs, like food and water, which had been a contributing factor in her death.  She formed sores in her mouth that generated dead tissue that doctors had to scrape away with a scalpel.

"It is our hope that this will set an example," Douglas’ lawyer, Mike Fuller, said of the $90 million verdict. "The community of West Virginia will not accept nursing home residents having to die from dehydration because of a corporation’s failure to provide even a cup of water."

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ThinkProgress had an interesting article explaining that some major companies in the fast food and service industries have decided that they would rather protect their bottom lines than provide their employees basic health benefits.  Regal Entertainment Group — which operates Regal Cinemas, Edwards Theaters, and United Artists screens in 38 states announced it will cut back non-salaried workers’ shifts to 30 hours per week in order to avoid giving them basic coverage.

The theater chain claims that it is simply trying to “manage [its] budget…in accordance with business needs.” But that assertion rings hollow considering Regal’s soaring profits and lavish executive compensation. In 2012, Regal’s stock went up by over 20 percent, and every single major company executive, including the CEO, CFO, and COO, received a six-figure pay increase. CEO Amy Miles made off particularly well, with her pay rising by 31 percent to $4.45 million for the year, bolstered by a base salary increase of $750,000.

Multiple surveys have shown that approximately 94 percent of the nation’s large employers will either definitely or most likely provide workers’ health benefits under Obamacare, since they fear that not doing so will invite public backlash and could potentially drive away current and prospective employees to companies that treat their workers better.

Large companies — and particularly those in the service sector — have a long history of protecting profits by cutting hours, firing workers, slashing benefits, and generally shifting costs onto their employees.

 

Kaiser Health News reported that Medicare could earn up to $111 million annually if it limited insurers’ ability to retain investment earnings on the billions they are paid through the prescription drug program, according to a government report out.  Medicare prepays the private insurers approximately 20 days before the insurers pay their pharmacy bills and does not require them to return any of the interest they earn while holding that money, says the report by the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services.

That contrasts with how the government treats insurers in the Federal Employees Benefit Program, which provides health coverage for federal workers, the report said. The auditors recommend that CMS pursue legislation to change the timing of payments so insurers pocket the money only briefly before they pay their bills. If the government had such a rule in effect in 2009 – the year the auditors studied – the Medicare Part D trust fund would have earned $111.2 million in interest.

The report  was given to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and to members of Congress in hopes they would fix this loophole.

 

The Wall St. Journal had an interesting article on the staffing and budget problems in Texas nursing homes.  The industry’s lobbying group blames the problems on cuts in Medicaid funding as profits soar.  The industry is pressuring legislators to increase the skilled nursing care Medicaid rate in accordance with Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) recommendations.

Lobbyist Julie Sulik (Texas Health Care Association Nurse Council Chair) said  "We care for 60,000 elderly and disabled Texas seniors dependent upon Medicaid, and our facilities simply cannot continue to operate at current staffing levels if Medicaid funding remains well below the actual cost of caring for our elderly."

The Texas House of Representatives passed SB 1 on April 4 without addressing nursing home care Medicaid rates — despite a $58 million Medicaid cut in 2011 and a $51 million Medicare cut this month. A 2013 Texas Health Care Association (THCA) survey of facilities indicates staff layoffs and wage freezes may occur if cuts remain.  "Specifically, the survey finds 84% of nursing homes may have to freeze wages, 75% may have to defer or reduce staff benefits, and 31% say they may have to lay off direct care staff in the wake of cumulative funding cuts."

Sulik noted a 4/15 Wall Street Journal story that helps detail the demographic challenge and the stakes involved:

The number of Americans 65 years and older is projected to reach 73 million in 2030, up from 40 million in 2010. Serving that growing population will require five million direct-care workers in 2020, up 48% from the 2010 level, according to U.S. government projections.

 

 

Tulsa World reported that an Oklahoma nursing home was fined $1.3 million for what the Oklahoma State Department of Health said is failure to stop a registered sex offender at the home from inappropriately touching other patients. The Enid News & Eagle reports that DHS notified Kenwood Manor of the fine and other sanctions on April 1.

"A health department official said numerous deficiencies were found at the home during a March 8 inspection that was triggered by an anonymous complaint. The department said the sex offender has inappropriately touched other patents and that the nursing home failed to implement its policy to prevent abuse."

The Nashville Post reported that National Health Investors has paid more than $26 million for two skilled-nursing homes in the Dallas area. Murfreesboro-based NHI bought the facilities from Fundamental Long Term Care Holdings, which runs care centers in more than a dozen states around the country.  NHI funded its purchase with from borrowings from its revolving credit facility.

Combined, the two centers in Corinth and Canton, Texas, are home to 254 beds. Both are less than two years old and are now being leased for 10 years by agents of Sparks, Maryland-based Fundamental owned and operated by Murray Forman and Leonard Grunstein.  NHI will take in $2.4 million in annual lease payments.

 

NPR reported that seniors in the Southeast are disproportionately affected by dangerous medications.  The data shows more than 1/3 of seniors in the Southeast are taking drugs that they should avoid or substitute for a safer alternative. Many of the risky drugs are being prescribed to a population that they shouldn’t be. For example, many of the drugs are long-lasting which would be fine in a young person, but because older people have slower metabolism, the drug stays in their systems for longer periods of time, which can wreak havoc on blood sugar and other bodily processes.

The study researchers used the National Committee for Quality Assurance’s list of drugs to avoid in the elderly. The study researchers suggest that elderly patients in the Southeast become more proactive in researching their medications. They suggest referencing the list and talking with doctors and pharmacists.

New findings in the 2013 Senior Care Acquisition Report show investors optimistic about long term care housing.  In the nursing home and assisted living sectors, prices rose to exorbitant amounts, astonishing even seasoned investors.

This report found that in nursing homes, the average price for a bed was $60,400. Assisted living facilities were even more expensive, the average amounting to $164,000.

Executive Director of Families for Better Care said that “Assisted living facilities were a hot commodity as they ‘dominated’ the market.” These exorbitant prices would make it seem that the industry has been successful even during the recent recession and Obamacare which will hopefully lead to more money for resident care, and not the pockets of the corporate owners.

See article at Fort Mill Times.