Brian Lee: The worst thing I've seen
Published: Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 4:08 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 4:08 p.m.
It’s a simple question.
Why are lawmakers seeking to provide near complete immunity for nursing home operators who injure, maim or kill nursing home residents?
What could possibly be their motivation?
After all, lawsuits against nursing homes are down –- way down –- since the so-called lawsuit crisis of nearly a dozen years ago. In fact, state records show how lawsuits against homes plummeted after lawmakers passed a comprehensive new law to put restrictions on lawsuits while increasing care. Even their own industry reports point to Florida as a model for low lawsuits and one such report from just last year called lawsuit reform in our state, “still effective.”
So the problem is clearly not lawsuits. Could it be that profits are waning?
No. Nursing home industry analysts are looking at nursing home profits and are wondering, “How long will the bull market last?” (That’s an actual quote from one of the industry’s leading analysts.) This quote comes as profits soar and the sales of nursing home beds rise to record-setting levels. With multi-million dollar salaries and escalating stock prices, nursing home corporations are enjoying banner years, yet, it seems they can’t help themselves.
They are now pushing a bill to shield those who run these homes from ever being held accountable in court. Ever! The bill says that only a “licensee” can be taken to court and held accountable. The fact is that the “licensee” can and often is a mere shell corporation with no assets and no function other than to serve as a placeholder for related corporate entities. Those related entities are the ones really calling the shots, setting budgets and making business decisions that could lead to horrific care.
And they –- the ones who really run most of our state’s nursing homes –- will be immune regardless of conduct and regardless of how severe the injury. They will even be immune from such cases involving physical abuse or severe neglect where a resident needlessly dies. They will be immune if they slash a budget and force staff layoffs –- even though the government pays for that care –- which lead to increased neglect and even death.
So why are Florida lawmakers even considering such a thing?
As care begins to slip in Florida…as more than one in five of our state’s homes make it to the state’s own “watch list” … and as profits soar, what is their need?
HB 869 and SB 1384 are bad bills and they do a disservice to the people of Florida and to anyone who expects even modest care in our state’s nursing homes. These bad bills will only lead to worse nursing home care and will send a clear signal to those who are thinking of retiring here that Florida does not value nor do we respect senior citizens.
I have spent over a decade standing up for the most vulnerable of our state’s elderly. I have personally visited well over a hundred homes and have seen the faces, held the hands and tried to provide words of encouragement when there was nothing else I could do.
When it comes to protecting nursing home residents, I have seen the best and I have seen the worst of what our state is capable of.
And this bill – and the impact it will have on real lives – is about the worst thing I have ever seen.
Brian Lee is executive director of Families for Better Care.