Nursing Home Rules Weakened
Lawmakers Go Easy on Licensing Requirements, Limit Damage Awards
The Legislature has weakened state nursing home protections even though an investigation by Gannett News Service found that Texas nursing homes have the country’s worst record for patient care.
Lawmakers recently approved bills that limit licensing and regulations requirements for the facilities and curb damages awarded in lawsuits alleging abuse in nursing homes. The legislation prohibits people who sue over poor care from introducing in court inspection reports that may show a home’s pattern of abuse and neglect.
“The legislature has abandoned nursing home residents and forced them to bear the full risk of neglect,” says AARP Texas’ Candace Carter. “We should be doing more, not less, to protect them and their rights.”
Securing court-imposed damages for abusive care could get tougher if Texas voters approve a proposed change in a special election in September. House Joint Resolution 3 would allow the legislature to set a limit on non-economic damages. Even in cases where nursing home officials knew of the abuse, awards have already been capped at $250,000.
In a four-month study of records filed with the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services from 1999 to 2003, Gannett found that nearly three-fourths of severe, repeated violations of federal patient care standards occurred in 12 states. Texas led the list. Violations included failing to protect patients from physical mistreatment and hiring staff members without conducting criminal background checks.
Tim Graves, president of the Texas Health Care Association, a nursing home trade group, told the AARP Bulletin that the shortcomings cited by the Gannett survey result largely from insufficient staffing caused by reduced state funding.
Article in the July-August, 2003 issues of the AARP Bulletin, South/Central Regional Report.