Now I understand why National HealthCare Corp, (NHC) is so desperate to protect their massive profits and limit the amount of damages for residents abused and neglected in their nursing homes. The Nashville Scene had an article about a sexual predator being employed and allowed to roam freely in a NHC run facility for over SEVEN years.

In the nursing home, NHC staff say a predator stalked the elderly in its halls.  They say that for nearly a decade, he fondled, groped and may have even sodomized patients—some of whom couldn’t walk, speak or see.   Affidavits, an investigator’s memo and other documents obtained by the Scene identify the man as James W. Wright, a nurses’ aide.   Despite repeated complaints from fellow employees, managers at the NHC Bristol facility allowed him to stay on the job.

Wright’s co-workers were bewildered by what they describe as management’s lackadaisical attitude toward the known abuse.  Many left in disgust.   Wright only resigned in 2007, several months after a Bristol police investigation of the home.   He was not even fired or reported to the Board of Nursing by NHC when the investigation found evidence to support the complaints.  This allows him to get rehired at another facility and continue preying on our elderly citizens.  He left NHC and began working for another nearby senior-living facility, Grand Court Bristol.  During an initial visit to Grand Court, executive director Libby Bailey was "unavailable". But when a reporter returned later that day, Bailey was expecting the visit. She read from a prepared statement and refused to answer questions.

"I have just become aware of some allegations of a legal situation involving one of our associates from his previous place of employment and he’s going to be terminated" pending the outcome of an investigation, she said. "During the person’s employment here, there’ve been no negative reports or issues related to his work."

As the complaints threatened to become public, however, pressure was applied to NHC on the victims’ behalf. It is not known how much NHC has paid to keep the allegations against Wright quiet. But sources say several cases were settled before they ever went to court.

The first complaint against him came in early 2000, according to a memo written by private investigator Lloyd Emmons, a former DeKalb County Sheriff and Tennessee trooper. The daughter of a resident we’ll call Emma—to maintain the privacy of alleged victims, the Scene has changed their names—noticed her mother became agitated whenever Wright was around. Emma was suffering from the early stages of dementia, but was reportedly still lucid.  Emma would swat defensively at Wright, according to her daughter.  She also complained that Wright "fingered me and he hurt me." The daughter reported her concerns to Charge Nurse Helen Roberts, but said the nurse defended Wright and persuaded her not to ban him from Emma’s room.  After seeking counsel from her pastor and Emma’s private sitter, the daughter resolved to have Wright banned from the room. Emma’s complaints stopped.

 

 

Not long after he was removed from Emma’s care chart, two aides came forward with more accusations against Wright.   As they were folding bibs at a desk, they said, they saw Wright pushing a resident, "Delores," in a wheelchair to the dayroom.   Delores had limited speaking abilities and could not walk on her own. The aides claim Wright’s arms and hands were draped over her breasts as he pushed her down the hall.

Later, he and Delores left the dayroom for her own quarters.   In an affidavit, an aide testified that she heard Delores "screamin’ and hollerin’ " from her room. She entered to find Delores sitting on the toilet, pointing at her genitals and saying over and over, "He hurt. He hurt." Wright was standing over her.  She filed a report with Charge Nurse Roberts, and Wright was banned from caring for Delores by management.  There was never an investigation of the incident, even though it is required to report allegations of elder abuse.  She left NHC soon after.

The next incident came in 2003.   Aide Diane Lewis was working the first shift;  Wright was her second-shift relief. They walked together down the hall, checking in on patients and exchanging information.  That’s when a male resident called Lewis into his room.  "He called me in and said, ‘I don’t want that boy taking care of me,’ " Lewis claimed in an affidavit. "And I said, ‘Why?’ And he said, ‘Because he sticks his finger up my butt.’ I went straight up and wrote a report on it."

Lewis filed the report with director of nursing Evelyn Nunez, but it did little good. "Nunez told me it was no findings," she says. "I said, ‘Well, what do you mean no findings?’ "

It is not known if Wright was confronted about the allegations.  Nunez no longer works for NHC Bristol.   Lewis herself left NHC Bristol in 2005.   Aides were overstretched, she believed, and patients weren’t getting the attention they deserved. She had begun to bring that anxiety home with her.  This theme recurs in interviews with former NHC Bristol employees.  Most aides say they can only effectively care for eight patients at a time. Bristol, Lewis says, would push that number to 12.

Lewis says the home circumvented rules by keeping a call log. If the facility was short-staffed, it would dial up an employee on the log. But if that employee couldn’t come in, she says, the home had still satisfied state regulations just by making the call.

Nor were state-mandated inspections much of a threat. In an affidavit, Lewis claims NHC Bristol knew when state inspectors would arrive. Suddenly, employees were offered time-and-a-half and even double-time to ensure full staffing.

That did nothing to stem the complaints coming from Wright’s charges. The next reported incident involving Wright occurred in 2004.  According to Emmons’ memo, patient-care coordinator Amy Edwards was alerted to a suspicious bruise on a female resident: a perfectly round ring around her anus. Edwards in turn notified the new director of nursing, Ann Franklin. But she says Franklin merely examined the injury and shrugged. Edwards launched her own inquiry, interviewing aides who cared for the woman on various shifts. That led her to Wright.  He told her the resident was severely constipated, so he took care of it manually.

But Edwards remained suspicious. She later resigned in frustration, galled by the facility’s chronic short-staffing and management’s failure to investigate Wright.

It wasn’t long before another aide—an NHC employee who requested to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation—walked in on Wright and a female patient.  In an interview with the Scene, the aide alleges that Wright had the curtain pulled closed, obscuring the view from outside the room. One arm was wrapped around the woman’s shoulder; the other was between her legs.

"She had her hands on his and she was sweatin’ and hollerin’," the aide says. "I said, ‘What are you doing?’ And he said, ‘She won’t turn loose of me.’ She said, ‘You devil, you. You won’t turn loose of me. Get him outta here. Give him to the devil.’ " When the nurse aide examined the woman, she claims she found a hole in the patient’s diaper directly over her genitals, about the size of a 50-cent piece. "I knew something was going on," the aide says. "But it was my word against his."

The complaints, once sporadic, had become a chorus by 2007.  In April that year, Bristol police investigated claims that yet another female resident had been molested.  No arrests were made or charges filed.   At around the same time, Patty Davenport, then a new aide at NHC, says she saw Wright molest a patient during her first month on the job in April 2007.  According to an affidavit and a videotaped interview, she says she heard grunting coming from across the hall.  She had worked with this particular patient before, and knew that grunting generally signaled distress. When she entered the room, she says, she saw Wright fondling the woman’s breasts.

"She was in her chair and he had her bra up, her shirt open and he was just like this," Davenport claims, working her hands over a pair of imaginary breasts. "Right in front of her, and she’s in her chair, just shakin’ and shakin’, making all these sounds. I said ‘Get your fucking hands off her. I’ll finish dressing her.’ "

Davenport reported what she saw to a nurse, who was disbelieving. "She said, ‘Well, maybe you saw it wrong,’ " alleges Davenport.  Since NHC has a strict chain of command, she’s unsure if her report ever made it to top administrators. But she says Wright was effectively banned from caring for the woman.

"When the first time it happened, I thought, ‘OK, maybe I did see it wrong,’ " Davenport says. But a month later, she caught Wright in another compromising situation. Davenport walked into the room of a patient who was blind and could not speak. As she rounded the corner, she saw Wright sitting next to the woman on her bed. Her gown was up and Wright, she claims, was rubbing her genitals while stimulating himself. This time, she had no doubts. "Oh, hell no," she says. "Uh-uh. There wasn’t no misunderstanding or none of that."  "I said, ‘What the fuck are you doing?’ " Davenport says.

She left the room and had an employee call director of nursing Franklin. Davenport says she told Franklin what she had seen and wrote her own statement. She told the head nurse that Wright’s license needed to be revoked and his actions reported to the state. But Franklin insisted they follow the chain of command, she says. That would have led to NHC Bristol administrator Charlotte Wilson.  The next morning, Davenport called in sick. She was told that someone would cover for her: James Wright. She decided to quit on the spot.

"This has been going on for years," Davenport alleges. "[Other aides] said this. And I said, ‘Well, ain’t nobody said anything about this?’ And they say, ‘Well, it’s not going to do anything.’ There were over eight rooms he couldn’t go in—couldn’t take a tray. He couldn’t do nothin’." Still, Wright retained his job—even though Davenport’s claims wouldn’t be the last brought to Franklin’s attention.

According to a videotaped interview, Cynthia Aldridge was caring for a resident on a morning in July 2007. She asked the woman if she was ready for her morning bath. The patient said she’d prefer a shower, which struck Aldridge as strange.  The resident normally didn’t like showers. Aldridge put on gloves to examine the woman’s diaper. "And when I put the gloves on she went crazy and started crying and screaming, ‘What’re you gonna do? You gonna finger me like that boy did last night?’ ".

She later spoke with the woman’s daughter, curious to see if the mother was prone to talking like that. The daughter was stunned. Both reported the situation to the nearest nurse. The next day, Aldridge was asked to file a written report and submit it to the charge nurse. "I had went to [Ann Franklin] and told her, ‘Look, if you need to talk to me about this, then I’m more than willing to talk about this,’ " Aldridge claims. "[Franklin] just kind of blew it off."

Less than a week later, Aldridge says the resident’s family pulled the woman from NHC Bristol. Not long after, a meeting was held during which the medical director pointed out that aides needed to show more respect to the nurses, Aldridge says. She could not hold her tongue.

"I said, ‘How can you respect somebody that lets people get molested, lets people eat the patients’ food?’ " Aldridge says. She says several aides spoke up as well about Wright’s alleged misdeeds—that they’d caught him eating patients’ food (a firing offense) and with his hands beneath their blankets.

Sometime in August or September 2007, Wright resigned. The medical director did not respond to repeated interview requests, but aides say Franklin gave the accusation-plagued aide an ultimatum—leave or be fired.

Now the nursing home industry is moving to restrict lawsuits in situations such as this. State Sen. Jim Tracy of Murfreesboro, home to NHC, wants to restrict damages even in abuse cases to $300,000—if the home can prove it was "fully staffed" at the time of an incident.  The health-care lobby has given Tracy $23,000 in campaign contributions. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, NHC’s political action committee spent $10,000 on Congressman Bart Gordon of Murfreesboro, and gave $84,000 in political contributions during 2008 to push its interests.  Please call these legislators and explain that they are protecting sexual predators.

The industry—and NHC in particular—are alleging lack of profits as their cause. In their PR campaign, nursing homes have argued that lawsuits are diverting money from patient care and employee wages.  This is untrue since insurance pays for defense costs and any jury verdict.

If the industry has fallen on hard times, though, it isn’t showing.  NHC’s ledgers look downright hearty.   It’s one of the 15 largest nursing home chains in the country, with about 60 facilities in Tennessee and others spread from Arizona to Florida.  Since 2000, according to the corporation’s own 10-k and the Tennessee Association for Justice, its net income has climbed to $43 million—a whopping 326-percent rise.

The company’s part of an estimated $125 billion industry, with taxpayers picking up roughly 70 percent of that tab.  Homes have become so lucrative that independents have been gobbled up by investors and corporations. And that, says the Health Researchers and Educational Trust, has caused a corresponding decline in care. The ratcheting-up of profit margins, they argue, has often caused short-staffing. A separate AARP-funded study also found that for-profit nursing homes can generally be associated with lesser care.

This is not the first time Murfreesboro-based National HealthCare Corp. has raised questions about the quality of care in one of its facilities. Still smoldering in memory is the deadly 2003 fire that killed 16 residents at an NHC nursing home in Nashville. Widely reported at the time were the lack of a sprinkler system, the scarcity of smoke detectors, and allegations of insufficient staffing.

If you believe the current allegations, an NHC employee was able to prey sexually on patients over a seven-year period. Now lawmakers will decide if $300,000 is enough to compensate the people left in his hands.   Sen. Jim Tracy apparently thinks so. He is, after all, the bill’s main sponsor and a beneficiary of nursing-home contributions. When asked about the incidents at NHC Bristol, he deflects the inquiries with noncommittal rhetoric.  "You know, you’ve done a question…those are some of the questions that are discussed when the bill moves through the general assembly," is all he’ll say.

But that’s understandable. He wouldn’t be the first person in power who didn’t want to look too closely behind those curtains.

 

 Co-workers say Charge Nurse Roberts remained Wright’s steadiest defender, invariably taking his side as the allegations began to mount.   Roberts was a religious woman, and Wright’s "professed" piety curried favor in her eyes.  "James played that card with her," Edwards claims. "He was wearing a wedding band, and when asked who it was, he said he was married to Jesus. I think that kinda blinded her eyes."

The Tennessean reported on Murfreesboro-based National Healthcare Corp’s CEO defending the ridiculous legislation to impose limitations on the amount of damages a victim of neglect, abuse, or negligence can be compensated for their injuries and pain and suffering.

Critics have labeled the bill the "Kill Old People Cheap Act."

"If we could lower our liability expense, we could put more into staffing," NHC President Steve Flatt said.  However, in all the states with caps on damages, the staffing remained the same!  These nursing homes have insurance and staffing is not affected by potential liability.  If they staffed properly to begin with then there would be less victims of neglect and negligence.  Flatt said his company saw a 20 percent loss in profits, going from $45 million in 2007 to $36 million in 2008. Opponents of the bill contend the nursing home industry spent between $700,000 to $850,000 to lobby for last year’s version of the legislation.

 Daniel Clayton, a Nashville attorney and president of the Tennessee Association for Justice, says while the legislation falls short.   "There’s not one word in their legislation that requires the nursing homes to improve the quality of care," he said. "We’re (ranked) 47th in the country in quality of care of nursing homes by the federal government." "Quality of care comes first," said Clayton. "The legislation that they are proposing is to make good care optional. Good care should not be optional. It should be mandatory.

Opponents see the legislation as a way to enhance profits by the industry.

"This bill is all about the nursing-home industry trying to avoid full responsibility when it neglects or abuses a vulnerable resident. Caps don’t improve care. If care improves, lawsuits go down."

NAACP Tennessee President Gloria Sweet-Love says the legislation comes at a time when state and federal reports have uncovered severe staffing and quality of care deficiencies. The CMS report uncovered that 49 percent of Tennessee Nursing Homes scored the poorest possible rating for staffing levels.

A report from the Government Accountability Office uncovered that Tennessee was one of nine states nationwide where health inspectors missed more that 25 percent of serious health and safety violations.  And a report recently released by AARP reconfirmed the poor state of Tennessee Nursing homes and found that tort restrictions have little impact on improving the quality of care in nursing homes.

The legislation would place arbitrary caps on non-economic and punitive damages in addition to making every negligent act that occurs in a nursing home protected under the Medical Malpractice Act.   "The nursing home industry’s effort to conceal its true intentions is despicable and should be rejected by anyone who has ever had a loved one in a nursing home," Sweet-Love said.

"We need laws to protect our nursing home residents, not ones designed to protect the profits of greedy nursing home operators."

"If the nursing home industry would spend its money on more nursing staff, rather than on high-priced insiders, the quality of care in nursing homes would improve," Sweet-Love, the NAACP official, states in the news release. "The industry chooses to spend their resources on backroom conversations aimed at passing a law that immunizes the industry from negligent and abusive acts against helpless residents."

 

The Star-Telegram had a story about nursing home employees who stole and embezzled money from the residents at a nursing home.  This is outrageous and it happens quite often.  Taxpayers are the ones who end up paying for these thefts.  The nursing homes should pay more attention to their finances and laws need to be passed that provide for transparency in nursing home financial transactions.

Terry Dean West and Elizandro Valdez Arana pleaded guilty this week to federal felony charges related to their embezzlement of about $42,000 from Medicaid, insurance carriers and a corporation that operated 10 Texas nursing homes including one in Fort Worth.  They pled to making false statements related to health care matters and aiding and abetting in the embezzlement scheme.   There is no reason mentioned why they weren’t charged with embezzlement.

West was working as a financial analyst for the Georgia-based Sava Senior Care Corp. in 2006 when he devised a scheme to embezzle money from Medicaid, private insurance carriers and Sava, which operated 10 Texas nursing homes and dozens of others nationwide.

West’s duties including overseeing the business managers of the Pampa Nursing Center in Pampa and the Arlington Heights Health and Rehabilitation Center in Fort Worth. In that capacity, he was required to refund excess payments to Medicaid, insurance carriers or residents of the centers.  West hired Arana to provide his name and that of an alias to use to cash funds containing the embezzled funds.

West admitted altering patient records to show non-existent credit balances and to create false names and addresses of the parties to whom the refunds should be mailed. He then issued refund checks to those newly created parties and mailed them to a post office box the pair had rented. They cashed the checks for their own use.

The scheme involved altering patient records to show non-existent credit balances and to create false names and addresses where refunds were mailed.

 

The Chamber of Commerce, the Insurance lobbyists, and the nursing home industry always claim that caps on the amount of damages a victim of malpractice or neglect can be compensated is needed because doctors are leaving states without caps.  A new analysis based on data from the American Medical Association proves that this propaganda is patently false.

The AMA statistics show that the number of doctors continue to rise nationwide and in every state.  The number of doctors has actually risen over the last five years in all states–with or without tort reform measures.  In fact, only in Alaska, Georgia, Montana and Utah–all of which have caps on damages–did the increase in doctors lag behind population growth.

The data also shows that the number of physicians per captia is 13 percent higher in states without caps.  This finding corroborates research done by The Commonwealth Fund and The American College of Emergency Physicians which found that health care quality and patient safety are dramatically worse in states that have eliminated accountability by enacting tort "reform" measures. 

Once again, facts and research disprove the false propaganda of tort "reform" advocates who clearly care more about profits than quality of care and patient safety.

The Illinoishomepage.net had the story of a nursing home employee who punched a demented resident in the face.  Sharoia Hill is now behind bars.  She is an aide at the nursing home. She works in the Alzheimer’s unit.  Police arrested 28-year-old Sharoia Hill when they discovered that she punched an 87-year-old Alzheimer’s patient twice in the face.

“Apparently the patient had an item that she wanted back and that prompted her to assault him," said Lt. Ed Ogle from the Champaign County Sheriff’s Department.

Now Hill could face up to 5 years behind bars and 25 thousand dollars in fines.  It is unlikely she will get anything except a slap on the wrist.   Nothing in the article mentions if she was reported to the Board of Nursing or if she will lose her certification. 
 

An Arizona jury awarded a landmark verdict of $11 million to the widow of a 36-year-old man with traumatic brain injury who died after ingesting foreign objects while in the care of Liberty Manor Residency, a Phoenix assisted living facility. The verdict included $2 million for the decedent, $5 million for the wife and $4 million in punitive damages. It was the largest verdict ever awarded against an assisted living facility in the United States.

Earl Scherrer suffered a severe traumatic brain injury as a result of a car accident in 1996.  He lapsed into a coma and was not expected to recover.  Despite doctors’ assessment that Mr. Scherrer’s condition was permanent, Lydia Scherrer refused to disconnect her husband’s life support.  Earl Scherrer remained in a coma for 16 months before he began to slowly emerge.  With his wife’s nurturing and support, he slowly started to speak, albeit slowly.  Mrs. Scherrer worked with her husband day after day, using first-and second-grade reading and math textbooks and other elementary learning tools to stimulate his brain function and coax him to reach his full potential.

Lydia Scherrer devoted many hours per week to her husband’s recovery, but she also had to work and was forced to turn to assisted living and residential facilities to provide the 24-hour care her husband needed. For years, she visited him faithfully on her days off, every Tuesday and Wednesday, checking him out of the facility and taking him home.

On April 7, 2006, Mrs. Scherrer placed her husband in Liberty Manor Residency, a facility that purported to provide 24-hour supervision of its residents.  One month later – on May 7, 2006 – she received a call saying her husband had been vomiting.  Mrs. Scherrer rushed over to Liberty Manor, brought her husband home and gave him a bath. Within a matter of minutes, he began vomiting black matter and died in her arms.

Autopsy results showed a number of items – including plastic bags, unopened catsup packets, candy wrappers and paper towels – were found in Earl Scherrer’s stomach and small intestines. The medical examiner determined these foreign objects were significant contributing factors to his death. The autopsy read in part, "hypertensive heart disease due to mechanical obstruction of the GI [gastrointestinal tract] from the foreign objects."

Lydia Scherrer brought claims against Liberty Manor for abuse and neglect, wrongful death and punitive damages.

At trial, it came to light that Liberty Manor made numerous false entries in its charts with respect to Earl Scherrer’s care, including notations of care on days when Mrs. Scherrer had checked him out of the facility.  Liberty Manor was also unable to produce Mr. Scherrer’s alleged caregiver, an employee named Raul.

"Lydia Scherrer did not walk away from her husband, in life or in death," said her attorney, Craig Knapp. "Her hope is that this verdict will force the assisted living facility industry to set and meet higher standards of care for their residents, resulting in enhanced protections for the defenseless individuals trusted to the care of others.

 

The L.A. Times reported another story about a nursing home fined for allowing a resident to choke to death.  This is the third story about choking deaths in nursing homes in the last couple of weeks.  The nursing home was fined $80,000 after a 54-year-old schizophrenic patient choked on a meatball and died.

Raintree Convalescent Hospital had known the patient had problems swallowing.  The spaghetti meatball served to him needed to be chopped or sliced before being given to him.  Both the cook and the nursing assistant who served the meal failed to grind up the meatballs, as required. The cook failed to follow the directions for the patient’s meal by not mashing up the meatball. He also said the nursing assistant failed to look at the meal card on the patient’s tray — which would have been a second chance to catch the error — before serving the lunch. 
 

"I just did not think to chop up his meat that day," the nursing assistant told state investigators.   The facility was probably understaffed which did not allow her time to do her job properly.

The man stumbled out of his room, pale and unable to speak. After a nurse unsuccessfully attempted the Heimlich maneuver, paramedics were able to suction the meatball out of the man’s airway, but he was pronounced dead at a hospital emergency room.

Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Herb Kohl (D-WI) reintroduced the Nursing Home Transparency and Improvement Act, a bill that would give consumers more information about individual nursing homes and their track record of care, give the government better tools for enforcing high quality standards, and encourage homes to improve on their own.

"Improving the quality of care in nursing homes is a constant challenge. More transparency, better enforcement and improved staff training are needed, and this legislation works to make changes in those areas and improve the quality of life of nursing home residents and to empower the family members and loved ones of those residents," Grassley said.

"Twenty-two years have passed since Congress last addressed the safety and quality of America’s nursing homes in a comprehensive way," said Kohl. "As we prepare to debate reforms across our health care system, there has never been a better time to implement critical improvements to our nation’s system of nursing homes. And as the GAO report demonstrates, many of these improvements are past due."

In addition to the bill introduced today, Grassley and Kohl released a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report entitled "Medicare and Medicaid Participating Facilities: CMS Needs to Reexamine Its Approach for Oversight of Health Care Facilities." This report suggests that the survey and certification system is significantly underfunded relative to the scope of its oversight responsibilities, which have greatly expanded in recent years. The report found that survey frequencies have greatly lengthened due to resource constraints, resulting in some facilities receiving inspections only once every ten years. The Nursing Home Transparency and Improvement Act seeks to bolster the federal government’s survey and certification system.

Grassley is ranking member and former chairman of the Committee on Finance, with jurisdiction over the federal health care programs that cover nursing home care, and former chairman of the Special Committee on Aging. Kohl is chairman of the Special Committee on Aging, a standing committee that conducts oversight of issues related to the health, safety, and financial well-being of older Americans. The Grassley-Kohl bill is the product of their work together on nursing home quality, which has helped to generate some positive results in recent years, including the government’s new five-star nursing home rating system and the release of the Special Focus Facility program participant list, consisting of the 135 worst nursing homes in the country.

 

Read More →

Mark N. Geller is a Memphis attorney with Nahon, Saharovich & Trotz PLC. He leads the firm’s nursing home practice group. He wrote the following column which can be found here:

The federal government’s Medicare program recently released a rating system that ranks the quality of care for residents in nursing homes. Among our nation’s 50 states, Tennessee ranked third from the bottom in its percentage of nursing homes that received the report’s highest five-star rating — ahead of only Louisiana and Georgia.

According to this rating system, Tennessee also had the fourth-highest percentage of poor-performing nursing homes in the nation (those that received the lowest possible rating of one star), behind Louisiana, Georgia and Virginia.

On the surface, these results are bad enough for Tennessee’s elderly population and their families. Unfortunately, though, the Medicare Nursing Home Compare report fails to capture the true extent of how poorly our fellow Tennesseans who live in nursing homes are being cared for right now.

In fairness to the nursing home community, four nursing homes within 50 miles of Memphis were given the highest ranking by Medicare’s report, and they stand out among the best in the country. (To view the full report, go to medicare.gov.)

As an attorney who practices in the area of nursing home litigation, I witness almost daily the substandard level of care many elderly Tennesseans must endure. I have seen the wide range of poor nursing home care across this state; poor care that sometimes includes leaving people in their own excrement for long periods of time, which results in bed sores and even death. There are cases — and they’re not uncommon — in which elderly nursing home residents have been left begging for food and water, but have been ignored. Or cases — including one recently in Memphis — where elderly residents have wandered out of their nursing facility unsupervised and were severely injured.

Even this bare recitation of facts pales next to actually hearing a family’s story. Family members have spoken about how they begged and pleaded for care that never came. They have talked about the heartrending suffering their loved ones go through in their last days of life.

Despite these stories and the objective data ranking Tennessee among the worst in the nation for nursing home care, Tennessee legislators recently sponsored bills (HB2243 and SB2160) to reform lawsuits against the nursing home industry by putting a monetary value on human life.

The bills set the price of a human life at $300,000. If they become law, that would be the maximum amount of noneconomic damages that could be awarded to plaintiffs in lawsuits against a nursing home. In addition, if a jury concludes that the nursing home’s actions were so wrong that they warrant the award of punitive damages, that amount would be limited as well, by a formula that uses calculations provided by the nursing home itself relating to its level of patient care.

These proposals, which are under review in legislative committees, are bad bills that are primarily focused on limiting the compensation that a family can recover if a jury finds that a nursing home acted improperly. They would protect nursing homes from liability. Nothing in them would protect nursing home residents.

There is no serious measure within these bills that sets out minimum standards for proper care of nursing home residents. The proposals fail to provide measures to protect the residents from negligent or improper care. They have no provisions to require nursing homes to maintain proper staffing levels or even treat their residents well.

Tennessee’s low ranking in the nursing home industry is easy to understand. Typically, nursing homes are operated by multibillion-dollar, multistate corporations whose main purpose is to make as much money as possible for their shareholders. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with making money. What is wrong is that many nursing home chains too often cut operational costs to increase profits. Such cuts are unconscionable when they are done at the expense of their stated business goals: the comfort and well-being of the elderly.

When a nursing home’s budget is cut, the nursing home must function with less supplies, equipment and staff. Less staff means fewer people to provide care to the residents. Eventually, it reaches a point at which the staff, no matter how caring or qualified they may be, are simply unable to meet the needs of the residents.

Life is precious and should be treasured. Every human being deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.

Making money is perfectly acceptable so long as you are doing your job first. Here, the primary job should be to provide skilled and humane care to the residents of Tennessee’s nursing homes and to make sure their needs are being met.

The state should legislate serious standards of care for nursing homes. And nursing home operators should be held accountable if they fail to live up to those standards.
 

The Franklin News-Post had a story about a nursing home employee–the assistant director of nursing– getting only three years for the distribution of prescription drugs she took from residents at her facility.  Linda Sloan Quick was also sentenced to three years probation, following her prison sentence, and she was ordered to be on good behavior for 25 years.  There was no mention if she would lose her license to practice nursing or if she was reported to the Board of Nursing.

Court records show that the drugs taken from the nursing home by Quick had either expired or had been prescribed for patients who had died or had been transferred to another health facility.  The sheriff’s department received anonymous information that a nursing home employee was selling prescription drugs, and investigators got Quick’s name from a confidential informant.

Quick was sentenced to 10 years for distribution of Fentanyl, but seven years of the sentence were suspended.  Quick was also sentenced to three years on each of the three counts of distribution of Hydrocodone. All nine years were suspended.