A state Senate committee has approved a bill that would require lawsuits against nursing homes to clear a review panel before going to court, a move that has drawn very sharp criticism from the editorial pages of the state's two largest newspapers. Meanwhile, the nursing-home industry is running television and radio ads urging calls to legislators in favor of the measure, which the Senate Health and Welfare Committee approved 7-4 last Wednesday without hearing from its opponents.
"Slimy action on questionable bill" read the headline over Tuesday's Lexington Herald-Leader's editorial, which began, "Good ideas can withstand criticism. So, when lawmakers move a piece of legislation without hearing from any of its opponents, you have to wonder whether they're sneaking through a stinker." The chairman of the committee and the bill's sponsor, Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville, said some members had to leave for other meetings. "But somehow they had time to listen to industry spokesmen before voting," the Herald-Leader noted. "The nursing home industry claims that it is under siege from frivolous lawsuits drummed up by attorneys advertising for clients and that this legal threat pushes up nursing homes' insurance and legal costs, taking money that otherwise could go into patient care." (Read more) The Courier-Journal editorial, which first reported the committee's action, accused Denton of "a brazen abuse of her power as committee chairman" and said sarcastically that she was "humane" to spare members of he committee "the ugly details of nursing home neglect and abuse. . . . Why should members, before lunch, have to consider graphic testimony about bedsores, near-starvation, dehydration and bowel obstructions suffered by elderly, helpless people? But for members of the General Assembly who are interested in the facts, here are some:
• Kentucky currently has about 23,000, mostly frail, elderly people who are residents in about 280 nursing homes. About half the homes have been cited by federal inspectors for a serious deficiency since 2009.
• 40 percent of the homes are rated at below average by the U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services when it comes to basic health and safety.
• In 2012, Kentucky ranked first in overall federal fines for violations and one Kentucky nursing home racked up the nation’s highest fines for the year.
• Kentucky ranks first in serious nursing home deficiencies that threaten the safety of residents. (Read more)
Sen. Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, who called Denton's move "blatantly wrong." has filed several floor amendments to the bill, which remained in the Senate Rules Committee Monday.
The Kentucky Association of Health Care Facilities is pushing the bill with TV and radio commercials urging calls to legislators. It placed $9,464 worth of ads on Lexington TV stations through Feb. 14.