Senate moves bill shielding nursing home interests

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 3, 2014 at 2:46 pm •  Published: April 3, 2014
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Lawsuits targeting nursing homes would yield smaller awards in the future, as the deep pockets of private equity firms and passive investors would be protected under a measure passed by the Senate on Thursday.

The bill (SB 670) would disallow including ownership that has no impact on the day-to-day performance of the facility in damage claims, a move proponents say will encourage broader investment in facilities in the state.

The measure explicitly targets Tampa lawyer James Wilkes, whose reputation for successfully representing litigants in nursing home abuse cases has given him a high national profile as well as a lucrative practice.

The bill is carried by the support of a number of groups. Those groups include the Florida Health Care Association, the AARP and, perhaps most crucially, the Florida Justice Association representing a host of trial lawyers.

"A vote for this bill doesn't mean you don't care about nursing home folks," said Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, who carried the bill. "This says you can list (other investors) if there was negligence."

Excluding any party in the case of an injury to someone in the care of a nursing home is bad idea, insisted Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, who voted against the bill.

"We want to know that if there are injuries, they have open access to the court without delay and that the person who is ultimately responsible are not shielded as a party that can be sued," Joyner said.

Also among those opposed include Wilkes, of course, and smaller groups who claim the larger corporate parents of nursing homes are concerned mostly with keeping costs low and profit margins high — which they believe are moves linked to injury and death in the homes.

"These corporations are here to make money, and the first thing they do is cut the staff," Barbara DeVane of the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans told a committee last month.

Her one-sentence argument crystallized the opposition outside the Legislature: Money was being made by large interests at the expense of care.