As families look to hold nursing homes accountable for neglecting proper care of their loved ones, some are finding success when action is taken against a corporate chain of homes. In these types of suits, families can show the corporation as a whole is making a decision to put its profits over the care of its residents.
The industry blames attorneys for bringing these suits and claim the homes operate on slim margins, but when you look at the merits of the cases, it doesn’t seem the corporate-run homes can hide behind attorney-bashing.
Consider, for example, a lawsuit against a West Virginia nursing home involving an 87-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. She was only at the Charleston-based Heartland Nursing Home for a short while before she died. Court records say that she was “dehydrated, malnourished, bedridden and barely responsive” prior to her death and had suffered head trauma from several falls.
The family sued the home, which is owned by the Manor Care, Inc. Her doctor said she should have been expected to live a few more years and the family said she was able to walk and communicate at the time of admission to Heartland.
In 2011, a jury returned a $90 million verdict against the home. The home appealed the decision and last summer the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals reduced the award to $30 million, but reaffirmed that a penalty was warranted in this case.
In the court’s opinion, the justices said, “Heartland Nursing Home was chronically understaffed to the point that it was not able to provide even a life-sustaining amount of water to Ms. Douglas during the 19 days she resided in that facility.” The court said a large punitive damage award was still appropriate precisely because such a penalty is designed to discourage this kind of conduct in the future.
The opinion found that corporate owner Manor Care, Inc. profited off of employing fewer staff, which comes at the expense of proper care to its residents
The Wall Street Journal cites data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services showing that for-profit nursing homes are more likely to be cited for severe health deficiencies than others. In addition, nursing staff at for-profit facilities spend about four hours each day tending to a patient, which is about half an hour less than at nonprofit homes.
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