As the son of a nursing home resident and as a longtime advocate for nursing home residents’ rights, I’m surprised and disappointed by SB670/HB569, titled “An act relating to nursing home litigation,” in the Florida Legislature. This bill effectively shields investors in nursing homes from civil lawsuits on behalf of injured or dead nursing home residents.
The bill says that if you or a loved one is injured or dies due to nursing home negligence, you can sue everyone from the nursing home license holder — which can be a shell company with no assets — down to the overworked and low-paid nursing assistant actually providing care. Just don’t think about suing the parent company because “passive investors” are exempted from all lawsuits.
A passive investor is defined as “an individual or entity that does not participate in the decision making or operations of a facility.” This definition would encompass both the corporate owners of large nursing home chains as well as private-equity companies that are increasingly seeing nursing homes as easy targets for acquisition and disposal. It’s like exempting an airline from lawsuits after a plane crash because the corporate leaders weren’t flying the plane. I can’t think of any other industry in Florida that is legally protected from lawsuits for injury or death. Can you?
I also can’t understand how the many good nursing homes that belong to the Florida Health Care Association (FHCA) — the primary mover behind this bill — can back a bill that will benefit only its most venal and neglectful competitors — companies that put profits ahead of care and want to get off cheap. It does nothing for good nursing homes, which are rarely the subject of major lawsuits. I think FHCA members are being led astray by their leaders, who appear to be unduly influenced by the big for-profit nursing home chains.
The Florida Justice Association (FJA) — the trial lawyers’ Tallahassee lobbying arm — appears to have calculatedly thrown its support behind this law to, in part, punish a more successful competitor who does not belong to their group. This bill is also supported by AARP. I contacted Jeff Johnson, AARP Florida state director, and his arguments mirrored those of FHCA and FJA. He seems almost reluctant to let his members know that he is supporting a bill that will prevent them and their loved ones from suing bad nursing home owners.
For my mom’s sake and for the sake of all our vulnerable nursing home residents, I urge anyone who has a loved one in a nursing home or who may someday end up in one to contact his or her state legislator and urge them to kill this terrible bill. It does nothing but help bad nursing home operators avoid the legal consequences for the injuries or deaths of their residents.
The writer is president, John Knox Village Medical Center Family Council; a volunteer member of the Governor’s Panel on Excellence in Long-Term Care; and a volunteer member of the Board of Nursing Home Administrators.