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A Responsible Remedy to Help Nursing Homes and Their Residents

March 16, 2014 - 7:00pm

We all want our loved ones to get the very best care when they no longer can live on their own and instead need the care that only a nursing home can provide.

This year, Florida has the opportunity to pass legislation that helps accomplish just that. The Florida Legislature is considering a new law that would protect resources needed for resident care by making responsible reforms to legal rules involving nursing home lawsuits.

An independent study shows that nursing home claims and liability costs are on the rise, costing facilities an estimated $5,400 per bed this year. Combine that with Medicaid underfunding nursing home care by nearly $500,000 per facility each year, and its even more important for the Legislature to reform this broken system.

Providing quality, complex nursing home care requires resources. Residents are far better off when facilities have enough resources to provide important services or make improvements that will enhance quality of life.

This legislation is the result of an historic agreement reached by nursing homes, trial attorneys and AARP. Under the legislation, nursing homes would still be held accountable and penalized if they provide substandard care. Nursing home residents would still be able to pursue lawsuits against those directly at fault, but with reasonable limits on who could be sued.

Sponsored by Sen. John Thrasher and Rep. Matt Gaetz, the proposal would:

-- Ensure that residents can pursue lawsuits against those directly at fault, while preventing claims against those who have nothing to do with daily care decisions, such as banks or creditors. Its important to note that if the role of those uninvolved players shifts and they become active decision-makers regarding things like staffing, budgets, policies and procedures, the legislation is clear that they can be held liable;

-- Ensure that a punitive damage claim is based on evidence, not hearsay, and is driven by the merits of the case;

-- Establish a workable framework for providing appropriate medical records to family members;

-- Ensure that legitimate awards are paid by revoking the license of any nursing home operator who doesnt pay a final judgment, arbitration award or settlement. It also prevents the operator from transferring that license to any related party during the judgment process.

Unfortunately, the so-called Families for Better Care organization continues to fight the legislation and chronically misrepresents the facts about tremendous strides nursing homes continue to make in quality care. Instead of joining the effort to forge an agreement to benefit seniors, the group instead shamefully works to scare seniors.

Try as they might to unforgivably tarnish the reputation of Floridas nursing homes and thousands of caregivers, the facts tell a different story.

Florida ranks second in the nation in the number of five-star-rated nursing facilities, according to U.S. News & World Report. Facilities continue to staff well above the national average, with individuals receiving more time with nurses on a daily basis. Customer satisfaction remains high and facilities are focused on providing residents with a more person-centered experience.

Of course, that doesnt mean Floridas nursing homes can be complacent. Were always looking to improve our care. When a nursing home falls short, it should be held accountable. That doesnt change under this proposal.

This legislation is about protecting the quality of care at nursing homes without sacrificing accountability. It properly safeguards the interests of nursing home residents, while allowing Floridas many outstanding facilities to continue providing a high level of care without fear of excessive litigation.

With this legislation, we can all move forward toward better care for those most in need of our services. Our loved ones deserve no less.

Emmett Reed is executive director of Florida Health Care Association, the states first and largest advocacy organization for long-term care providers and the residents under their care. He can be reached at ereed@fhca.org.

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