In 1987 Congress passed the Nursing Home Reform Act, but the NHRA only said that a “nursing facility must provide services and activities to attain or maintain the highest practicable physical, mental, and psychosocial well-being of each resident,” without providing specific numbers on the minimum staffing levels for registered nurses and nurse’s aides required per resident. The situation is a perfect storm for elderly abuse and neglect: more residents and fewer nursing assistants translates directly into profits for the owners of the facility, sending the whole industry into a ‘race to the bottom.’ The states have filled in the gap in some ways with regulations establishing the number of care managers that have to be assigned per resident, but standards are still quite low and, worse, they’re routinely violated. Given how widespread nursing home horror stories are — virtually everyone knows a story, or two, or ten, about an elderly resident being left dehydrated for days or developing an infection that’s never treated — you would think all attention would be directed towards improving the quality of elder care.
Right now it seems the Pennsylvania legislature is focused on doing exactly the opposite by shielding nursing home companies from the same laws that apply to the rest of us (except doctors and hospitals, who received this same special protection under the MCARE Act in 2003). As Amaris Elliott-Engel at The Legal Intelligencer is reporting,
Last month, the House voted on the third consideration and final passage of House Bill 1907 103-89 to amend the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error (MCARE) Act to cap punitive damages in lawsuits against personal care homes, assisted living communities, long-term care nursing facilities, home care agencies, home health care agencies and hospices at 200 percent of the compensatory damages awarded in such lawsuits. The bill is still pending in the state Senate. The cap would not apply to cases involving intentional misconduct.
The primary sponsor of the legislation, Rep. Glen R. Grell, R-Cumberland, said that he advocated for the legislation because nursing homes in his district should not be “subject to the jackpot punitive damages awards that could result.”
Nursing home litigation is a common target for tort reform propaganda these days, and as far as I can tell Rep. Grell hasn’t come up with any examples of what he means by “jackpot punitive damages awards,” he just thinks it sounds nice.