An article by Brian Lee in the March 13, 2013 edition of the Palm Beach Post discusses that in the debate over nursing home lawsuits and one thing stands out as a jaw-dropping moment.
Its not that nursing homes want more protections from lawsuits than anyone else in Florida. While that is brassy, it isnt the most surprising thing. Well-heeled nursing home operators have consistently pushed for special laws to protect themselves from their bad actions, and it would be a surprise if they werent seeking special laws to shield themselves.
Its not even that after spending well more than $1 million in political donations, the industry expects something in return. After all, we are talking about an industry that receives as much as 80 percent of its money from tax dollars, is guaranteed payment regardless of quality of care, and is protected from competition by a state law ensuring that nobody can invent a better long-term care mousetrap. Expectation is in the industrys DNA.
So what is it? The most surprising thing about the response to the operators critics, as seen in the recent Palm Beach Post story "Bills would make it harder to sue nursing homes as more sites land on watch list," is that the operators attempt to discredit their own data.
For well over a decade, the nursing home industry has touted annual reports from the AON Corp. AON Risk Solutions provides a yearly look at lawsuits and related costs for the nursing home industry. Year after year, in state after state, nursing homes refer to AON reports with the same reverence someone might have for the family Bible. The last time the companies sought and got relief from lawsuits in Florida they paraded AONs chief actuary, Theresa Bourdon, to tout these reports as gospel.
But now these same reports show lawsuits trending down; they even point to Florida as being exemplary, in that lawsuits and related costs are very low. So now, according to an industry spokesman, AONs data is incomplete, inaccurate and "represents a small subset of homes." Further, despite what these supposedly hallowed reports say, an industry spokesman says the real data is the opposite of what AON is saying. Of course, the industry has no evidence that lawsuits are headed upward or that they are high.
So why does the industry need such extreme protection from injured residents? That is unknown.
The industry is more profitable than ever. According to Morningstar.com, stock prices for publicly traded nursing home companies have increased an average of 1,402 percent over the past 10 years, outpacing the Dow Jones Average sevenfold. With per bed profits at record levels, we at least can agree that the problem is not that homes are losing money.
Further, care continues to get worse. With one in five Florida nursing homes on the states so-called "Watch List," there can be no doubt that bad care has long since gone past the crisis stage. Couple those gargantuan profits with the recent U.S. Department of Health and Human Services inspector generals report that 37 percent of nursing homes failed to meet quality of care requirements while they received more than $5 billion in Medicare payments.
So it is a mystery as to why nursing homes want to shield those who operate, direct, manage and control nursing homes. But one thing is clear: Their paid advocates will say just about anything to get what they want, including attacking their own data.
Now, that is jaw-dropping.
Brian Lee is executive director for Families for Better Care, a nursing home resident advocacy group. Among the groups donors are nursing-home residents, families, trial lawyers and other advocacy groups. Mr. Lee served as Floridas Long-Term Care Ombudsman from 2004 until 2011.
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