Consumer advocate and nursing home expert Brian Lee wrote a guest column for Florida’s Herald Tribune on the new tort reform measures to protect the nursing home industry. Below are some excerpts.
In his recent guest column, "Nursing home articles disputed," the nursing home industry’s lead lobbyist and spokesperson, Emmett Reed, claimed that he would "set the record straight" on Senate Bill 1384 — an awful bill sponsored by Sen. Bill Galvano.
Unfortunately, Reed never actually got to the record.
Instead of presenting clear and convincing evidence on how this legislation would benefit residents, he has offered obfuscations shrouded in a great deal of industry spin.
First, Reed claims that his bill will "continue" to "ensure" that nursing homes are held to the "highest standards."
That is simply not true.
Not a single line, phrase or word — not even a comma — in the bill addresses the standard of care. Does Reed’s definition of "highest standard" recognize the 17,021 deficiencies cited at Florida nursing homes, 50 percent of which were directly related to resident care, during the past three years, more than $4.6 million in federal fines against nursing homes in the state, and the fact that one in five nursing homes are so bad they are on the state’s notorious watch list? If this is Florida’s definition of "highest standard," it is a sorry one.
Nurse hours at low level. Reed also states that nursing home residents are "receiving more time with nurses on a daily basis." Also not true.
The latest federal staffing data compiled by independent sources (Online Survey, Certification and Reporting) show that Florida’s total nurse hours have dropped to their lowest levels in the last five years. Absolutely nothing in SB 1384 would guarantee higher staffing levels for residents.
Reed has the audacity to assert that injured residents and their personal injury lawyers deprive nursing homes of resources "devoted" to the care of residents. What? This makes no sense. He is actually blaming victimized elderly and disabled adults who’ve suffered horrible and provable mistreatment at the hands of negligent caregivers.
Don’t they, like all Americans, have the right to seek redress through the courts and to pursue punitive damages in horrific cases? This bill only addresses serious cases involving care that is so bad, it rises to the level of punitive conduct. We are not talking slip-and-fall cases. We are talking about cases of physical abuse, sexual assault, chronic and purposeful understaffing, fraudulent behavior by owners and a host of other very bad acts.
As the profits of nursing homes soar to record levels, as the publicly traded stocks of nursing homes outpace the Dow Jones Industrial Average by a 2-to-1 ratio, and as per-bed prices of homes in Florida soar to new levels, staffing levels are dropping. Yet SB 1384 says, according to the testimony we heard from experts, thta the corporate owners can never be punished in court?
He says this despite the facts that the nursing home industry’s own actuarial report (published annually by Aon, a risk-management firm and insurer) clearly and repeatedly states that the frequency of lawsuits in Florida have "steeply declined" and that "loss costs per bed have dramatically decreased." Things are so good for nursing homes here in the Sunshine State that Florida is no longer listed among the problem states — and, to repeat, this is a report from Reed’s own people.
This contrived "lawsuit problem" devised through Senate Bill 1384 is smoke and mirrors meant to financially benefit owners who cause serious harm to residents in lieu of improving care for elderly and disabled residents.
That’s the real story.
And as for the personal attacks against me, they don’t warrant a response because, as the old saying goes, words will never harm me.
But when it comes to harm, the real harm is what his association is pushing before this Legislature with Senate Bill 1384.
Brian Lee is executive director of Families for Better Care, based in Tallahassee. Web: www.familiesforbettercare.com