NURSING HOMES: Lawsuits Abound in Ailing Industry
The number of lawsuits against nursing homes has increased 9% nationally each year in the last five years, while the average dollar amount of the claims has risen from $64,015 to $112,351, according to a study commissioned by the Florida nursing home industry and performed by Aon Worldwide Actuarial Solutions. USA Today reports that in Florida, where a unique state law makes it easier to sue nursing homes, claims have jumped 20% each year. "Everywhere you turn, you're bombarded with law firms chumming for business," Marty Goetz of River Garden Hebrew Home said. Goetz believes that the increase in advertising for nursing home lawsuits has added to morale problems in the industry, which is already struggling with financial difficulties, staff shortages and a bad public image. Bruce Thevenot, executive director of the Alabama Nursing Home Association, said, "Suing nursing homes is a growth industry." Other critics agree, saying that lawyers are after "easy money," pandering to baby boomers who might feel guilty about putting their aging parents in a home. Patient advocates, on the other hand, claim that conditions in many nursing homes are deteriorating. "There's a reason for growth in this area of litigation," attorney Alexander Clem said, adding, "It's not just because attorneys woke up one morning and said, 'I want to do nursing home litigation,' but because of the widespread problem of abuse and neglect in nursing homes." Patient advocates say that Florida, sometimes called "God's waiting room," is "reeling" from lawsuits because it suffers from more problems in its nursing homes. But University of California professor Charlene Harrington, whose research is often cited by patient advocates, points out that while Florida does have a higher-than-average number of citations filed by health officials, that may simply reflect more aggressive enforcement. Still, Harrington agrees with advocates that state and federal officials need more power to close lawbreaking nursing homes, and that good homes need to boost staffing. The good homes, she says, will survive (Appleby, 6/19).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.