We are forever hopeful that when it comes to reporting accurately and without malice, members of the press hold themselves to a pretty high standard. Unfortunately, @JoshSalman's recent column aspires to create sensationalism without the benefit of accuracy or fairness.
Senate Bill 1384 is another attempt by Florida leaders, this time spearheaded by Senator Bill Galvano, to ensure we continue holding our nursing homes to the highest standards while protecting our system of justice against selfishness, greed and harm.
Had he done his homework, Mr. Salman would have learned that Senate Bill 1384 does nothing to weaken regulations and protections, but it does draw a line against the kind of legal mischief that’s enriched personal injury attorneys while depriving nursing homes of resources devoted to the care of our loved ones.
The truth is Florida nursing homes have some of the strongest oversight in the country, with facilities undergoing an intense survey process, mandated minimum staffing ratios and increasing regulations at the state and federal level.
Standards here are consistently rated among the nation’s best. Federal regulators give over 50 percent of Florida nursing homes a four or five star rating, and facilities continue to staff well above the national average. Individuals are receiving more time with nurses on a daily basis, which is important given the changing health needs of today’s resident. Customer satisfaction remains high among long-stay residents and their families, and short-stay patients’ satisfaction has significantly improved in recent years.
Mr. Salman and others in the press continue to cite a malcontent former state employee as their source for commentary on this legislation. Actual research on the “advocacy group” Families for Better Care shows how this organization and its spokesperson are connected to trial attorneys. Further, according to public records, trial attorneys donated more than $8 million in campaign contributions during the 2012 election cycle. And speaking of lawsuits, Mr. Salman failed to point out that Mr. Lee himself has filed suit for personal damages against the trade associations representing Florida’s long term care facilities, casting his objectivism even further into doubt and his motives even further into question.
Many nursing home lawsuits have nothing to do with seeking redress for real negligence or even with improving conditions for residents. Because all citations must be reported, even those that are later proven to be unfounded, the data is easily exploited to prey on the emotions of seniors and their families in order to seek clients for litigations.
Every industry can and should be held accountable, and this legislation does nothing to change that. Senate Bill 1384 allows patients to sue for negligence and damages for those who purposely or consciously harm our seniors. Regarding claims for punitive damages, the bill ensures such claims are based on evidence, not hearsay, and are driven by the merits of the case, not by a personal injury lawyer’s attempted push to enrich himself with someone else’s bank account.
The unfortunate reality is that punitive damages, when awarded for serious and egregious behavior, go mostly to others, NOT to the plaintiff. Those lawyers who specialize in suing nursing homes oppose this legislation because it removes their ability to generate higher out-of-court settlements and squeeze out more dollars for their fees.
Florida is one of the worst states in the nation for lawsuits, and trying to extort money from businesses using the courts is an all-too-common practice in our increasingly litigious society. The cost to nursing home care from frivolous or malicious suits driven by personal injury lawyers is draining resources that go directly to those responsible for delivering that care – doctors, nurses, therapists and others who have dedicated their lives to helping others.
When trial lawyers profit at the expense of others, and support policies that help themselves more than those they represent, it’s not legal representation – it’s larceny.
Let’s set the record straight – personal injury lawyers and their pseudo-advocates do nothing to improve quality. Quality is good because our state’s nursing homes are committed to an environment where the highest standard of care is the norm. Senate Bill 1384 is a long-overdue remedy, and Senator Galvano’s leadership through this bill will simply restore some common sense, fairness, and respect for the law.
J. Emmett Reed, CAE
FHCA Executive Director