What Effect Do Lawsuits Have On Nursing Home Care (And Does It Matter)?

The results of a recent study appearing in the March 31, 2011 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine reviewed information provided by five large nursing home chains on claims filed against them between 1998 and 2006, which involved 4,716 claims against 1,465 nursing homes (a claim was defined as a written demand for compensation because of injury). The claims involved falls (26.6% of the claims), pressure ulcers (15.9% of the claims), and other claims such as dehydration, medication errors, and malnutrition.  

The study concluded that lower quality nursing homes (those with more deficiencies and those with more serious deficiencies) were sued more often than higher quality nursing homes but that the difference was small (47% annual risk versus 40% annual risk) , and therefore the researchers concluded that the threat of claims did not lead to improvements in patient care. In short, they believe that lawsuits have little effect on the quality of care in nursing homes.

But were the so-called higher quality nursing homes providing any better care than the so-called lower quality nursing homes if  both were sued just as often and 61% of the claims resulted in payments that averaged just under $200,000 per claim, for a total of $578 million in 2006 dollars? Does it really matter to the victims of medical malpractice in nursing homes whether their nursing home was considered higher quality versus lower quality? By way of an analogy, if a well-respected surgeon makes a negligent medical mistake during surgery causing severe injury to his patient, is the pain and suffering any less because of the reputation of the surgeon who injured him?

Based on the findings of the study that analyzed the information provided to the researchers by the nursing home industry itself, the nursing home industry jumped on the findings to call for medical malpractice tort reform to limit nursing homes’ responsibility to compensate their victims when the quality of care fell short of acceptable standards.

But do the study’s methodology, analysis, or conclusions have anything to do with attempts to restrict or eliminate the legal and moral rights of nursing home patients who are seriously injured because of bad care to be compensated for their losses? And what efforts were made to insure that the information provided by the large nursing home chains with regard to the claims made against them was correct, complete, and accurate (did the so-called higher quality nursing homes provide complete and accurate information regarding the quality of patient care?)? Were there claims that were not disclosed to the researchers or were details regarding the disclosed claims withheld or incorrectly stated? What efforts did the researchers make to independently gather and inspect information regarding the care provided by the nursing homes, such as performing independent and thorough inspections of the nursing home facilities and independently reading the patient records? What other sources of nursing home claims information were available but not obtained and analyzed?

The important point is not whether lawsuits help to improve medical care provided by nursing homes but rather that nursing homes must do a better job in the care and services they provide to their patients and they must continue to be held accountable for substandard care that causes serious and painful injuries to some of the most vulnerable members of society. Bad medical care resulting in serious injuries to innocent victims must be corrected (compensated) by those responsible for the substandard care. The finding in the study that even the higher quality nursing homes had a 40% (forty percent!) annual risk of being sued is a significant indication that substandard nursing home care is a real problem (many nursing home patients do not have someone “on the outside” to monitor their daily care, to report bad care when it affects them, and to seek and find a lawyer to bring a claim on their behalf when they are injured because of inadequate care – therefore, judging the quality of care provided by nursing homes based on claims made instead of an analysis of the actual quality of the care provided is misleading at best). So ask the nursing home industry representatives: is it ever proper for a nursing home to claim that the same medical error due to substandard care could have happened in a better nursing home?

If you or a loved one have been injured due to bad care in a “high quality,” “low quality,” or any-quality-in-between nursing home, do not let them get away with it! Visit our website to find a local medical malpractice lawyer to help you with your claim or call us toll free 800-295-3959.

This entry was posted on Saturday, April 9th, 2011 at 12:40 pm. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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