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Reddick Moss News - 3/1/2002

TESTIMONY GIVEN BY BRENT MOSS

 March 1, 2002

TO:      MEMBERS OF THE SENATE HEALTH COMMITTEE AND THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON AGING AND LONG TERM CARE

FR:      ROB CARTWRIGHT, JR., PRESIDENT

RE:     JOINT INFORMATIONAL HEARING ON “NURSING HOME CLOSURES, BANKRUPTCIES AND LIABILITY INSURANCE: IS THERE A CRISIS?”

 

Thank you for inviting Consumer Attorney representatives to appear at the March 6 hearing.  We look forward to sharing our views with you. 

 We would like to also offer the following comments:

 The crisis in the nursing home industry is poor care. 

  • As detailed in this past weekend’s New York Times, a new GAO report found “Nursing home residents have suffered serious injuries, or, in some cases, have died as a result of abuse.”  As reported in the Times, “physical and sexual abuse of nursing home residents is not being promptly reported to local authorities and is rarely prosecuted, federal investigators say.”
  • A recent GAO report found “despite federal and state oversight infrastructure currently in place, certain California nursing homes have not been and current are not sufficiently monitored to guarantee the safety and welfare of their residents....We also found that surveyors can miss problems that affect the safety and health of nursing home residents and that even when such problems are identified, enforcement actions do not ensure that they are corrected and do not occur....Unacceptable care continues to be a problem in many homes.
  • Abuse is rampant in California nursing homes.

“In California, more than 40% of the state’s 1,352 nursing homes were cited for abuse, according to [U.S. Senator] Waxman’s office.  In Los Angeles County 37%, of 424 homes were cited.”

Los Angeles Times, July 31, 2001

“The report details a range of abuses, including instances of nursing home residents being punched, kicked or choked by staff members.  Other abuses included untreated bedsores, inadequate medical care, malnutrition, dehydration and inadequate sanitation and hygiene.  Some residents also complained of workers groping and sexually assaulting them.”

Los Angeles Times, July 31, 2001

“At San Jose’s Courtyard Care Center, inspectors determined that nurses had poorly documented the condition of one patient, saying that she had a foot lesion when in fact she had gangrene and maggots in her wounds.”

Los Angeles Times, April 28, 2001

“A woman sharing a nursing home room with Bess Jarvis, 91, told state investigators she heard it all:

Slaps twice in the night; the frail Jarivs, who was tied in here bed, saying, ‘What are you hitting me for?’ and ‘Don’t do that, it hurts.

By the time Diane Sandell of Dana Point saw her mother, Jarvis had bruises on her forehead and temple, a purpling hand print on her cheek, a blood clot under one eye, a bloody nose and bruises on her chest.  She died two weeks later.”

The Orange County Register, October 1, 2000

“Of 288 Bay area nursing homes, only 18 were found to be in ‘full or substantial compliance, the report found.”

San Francisco Chronicle, August 2, 2000

“State health officials said there were ‘horrified’ at conditions discovered inside the Windsor Gardens nursing home in Golden Hill and will ask state Attorney General’s office to consider criminal charges.”

San Diego Union Tribune, December 12, 2000

A nursing home case search for the past five years by the independent Jury Verdicts Weekly found the following crucial facts that clearly demonstrate that industry claims of litigation abuse are unfounded.

 The California Judicial Council does not track cases filed against nursing homes, but a private, independent jury service does monitor all cases.  We ordered the past five year’s verdicts, settlements and judgments from Jury Verdicts Research and found the following:

1.  From 1997-2002, there have been only 41 suits against nursing homes or care centers.    The total residents in that same five years were 505,090, meaning that the total suits per resident for the past five years has been .00008117, hardly a litigation crisis.  We agree that this figure is astoundingly low considering the amount of abuse that occurs.

2.  There have been only 10 awards in the past five years (1997-2002), with a median award of $225,000 and a mean award of $869,529.30.  There have been 15 settlements, with a median settlement of 258,000 and a mean settlement of $869,529.30.

3.  Assuming a continuing average of 101,018 residents per year (taken from public resident statistics), the nursing home industry paid approximately $2.70 per patient in settlements and awards in the past five years.

Nursing homes can manage their risk by providing trained providers and adequate care; limits on liability or insurance risk pools do not address the basic issue—the need to provide quality care to patients. 

  • The nursing home industry has tried (largely unsuccessfully) in several other states to limit the ability of nursing home residents to have an adequate legal remedy for poor care or to encourage state insurance pools. 
  • The state should not pick up the tab for insurance costs because it would delete any incentive to improve care. Further, insurance pools usually do not work because they are rarely actuarially sound.  It should be our goal to make the cost of doing business the wrong way exceed the cost of doing it the right way. 

Insurers are leaving the nursing home market all over America, regardless of the laws in those states, because the nursing home corporations have repeatedly demonstrated themselves to be the worst kind of risk.

  • A survey of recent news stories produced more than twenty states discussing the recent rise in liability insurance rates.  Clearly this indicates that nursing home liability insurance is a national problem and not one limited to a specific geographic region, so California specific “tort” proposals do not make sense.
  • In 1995, the U.S. General Accounting Office reported widespread fraud and endemic corruption among nursing homes’ claims, and noted that the problem was “nationwide and growing in magnitude.”  And recent SEC filings continue to document widespread allegations of Medicare fraud, insider trading, false claims and unjust enrichment.
  • Despite a steady and dramatic rise in tax dollars going to nursing home corporations (25 % increase per year during the last decade), five of the seven largest nursing home chains are now in bankruptcy.  According to the GAO, this industry wide failure is the direct result of “excessive debt” fueled by “unrealistic projections” of government spending.  In two separate findings, the GAO concluded that government funding was “generous,” “adequate,” and even “excessive.”
  • In August, 2000, a Health Care Financing Administration report concluded that nursing home care in America is in dire straights.  Most homes, the report found, were dangerously understaffed and that this understaffing was directly linked to widespread suffering and even the death of residents.

California nursing home verdicts encourage decent care and are a vital check to balance the system.

  • One case cited by the nursing home industry as “abuse” by litigants involves a verdict in Fresno.  What the industry fails to tell you is that the jury was unanimous (12-0) in that the “companies’ negligence caused (the elderly woman’s) physical injury and serious or severe emotional distress,” and that the jury voted to find the defendants guilty, by clear and convincing evidence, of “willful misconduct, malice and oppression” (an extremely difficult legal standard to prove) that caused the elderly woman’s death.  Mrs. Muccianti, a 65 year old retiree, was recuperating from surgery at the Willow Creek Care Center, a skilled nursing facility in Clovis.  The Center discharged her while she still needed treatment because her Medicare benefits had expired, even though she was MediCal qualified.  Three days after the wrongful discharge, she died of peritonitis from an ischemic bowel, an extremely painful death.  The reason they discharged her was due to the difference in reimbursement rates; Medicare paid $661 per day versus MediCal’s $88 per day.  As the result of this profit motive, the “care center” failed to consider the plaintiff’s emergency medical conditions.    Interestingly, the defendants refused the plaintiff’s $224,000 offer of settlement, but now complain about this judgment.
  • The industry can avoid verdicts by improving their care instead of attempting to place blame on the people they harm.
  • A review of California cases is disturbing, not because of juries finding that nursing homes should be accountable, but because of the repeated  patterns of abuse.    A common scenario is found in a year 2000 case McDonough v. Living Center of Canoga Park, Inc., a case brought against a San Fernando Valley area nursing home. Mr. McDonough, a retired Lieutenant in the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department suffered from Parkinson's Disease. The facility failed to give him proper care for his feet and his Achilles tendons were exposed, causing severe wounds. While his wife complained frequently, the wounds increased in severity until the Achilles shafts were exposed from heel up the back of his calf a length of about 4 inches. These wounds were concealed from his wife, as was the development of a serious stage 4 pressure sore over his coccyx. In addition, Mr. McDonough lost weight and was at the time of his transfer to hospital nutritionally compromised. Careful attention was required by the fine staff at St. Joseph's Hospital in Burbank, California, for a period of a little more than one year, to heal his wounds.  Fortunately, he survived the abuse, unlike others.

The nursing home industry allegation that “the combination of California’s aggressive enforcement effort, higher administrative fine levels and inflated civil awards/settlements is threatening to undermine the system’s entire financial foundation” is false.

 Labeling California’s enforcement effort as “aggressive” is a stretch.  A July 1988 GAO report reviewed allegations that residents in nursing homes were not receiving adequate care.  The GAO concluded that:

1.  Despite the federal and state oversight infrastructure currently in place, certain California nursing homes have not been and currently are not sufficiently monitored to guarantee the safety and welfare of residents;

2.  Residents in 34 of 62 cases received care that was unacceptable and had sometimes endangered their health and safety;

3.  Unacceptable care continues to be a problem in many homes;

4.  The extent of serious care problems portrayed in federal and state data is likely understated;

5.  Homes could generally predict when their annual on-site reviews would occur and, if inclined, could take steps to mask problems otherwise observable during normal operations; and

6.  The problems identified are indicative of systemic survey and enforcement weaknesses.

The industry claim that “insurance is increasing without basis” needs critical review.

  • The industry has not shared its insurance data with us or the Legislature and we expect that it will not.  We repeatedly asked for a closed claims data study when the physician insurers made the same claims during and after the MICRA debates, but for some reason (maybe they are afraid of the real facts?), the insurers would not substantiate their data claims or increases in insurance by allowing a third party like the DOI to conduct a closed claims study.  One can safely assume, however, that when the state has found that more than 40% of California’s nursing homes have been cited for abuse, perhaps the insurance industry would attempt to cover expected claims and increase premiums.
  • The industry claims insurance premiums are out of control.  The doctors made the same claim when they pushed for MICRA reform.  MICRA passed in 1975 as the result of a perceived crisis in medical insurance.  In reality, the 1975 “crisis” was Traveler’s Insurance baseless overcharging of policyholders.  The physicians had to hire a former CAOC President to sue for refunds, a suit which successfully obtained more than $18 million back to the physician policyholders.  Of course, the huge rebate was never passed on to patients.
  • The claim that litigation has pushed up liability insurance premiums for facilities with no claims does not present the entire picture.  Last year, insurance experts were asked this question in a legislative hearing in Mississippi–they said the rise in premiums was due primarily to a stagnant or declining stock market during the past two years as well as the recent terrorist attacks. 
  • The industry made the same claims in Florida in their effort to enact tort reform.  In response, the Florida Insurance Commissioner surveyed every major insurance company and found that every single one that was leaving was doing so as part of a broader national exit strategy.  California’s experience is not unique.

Improve the behavior–don’t excuse it.

Insurance rates increase as risk increases among nursing homes that are not providing adequate quality of care.  Nursing homes that are not meeting quality of care standards are driving rates up, forcing good homes to pay for bad homes.  Improved care among those nursing homes that are not meeting standards will lower the risk of insuring nursing homes and most likely result in a rate decline for all nursing homes.