Thursday, March 07, 2002

Plan would shield nursing homes

Proposal aims to limit lawsuits

By Brian Clark
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — A bill designed to restrict lawsuits against nursing homes advanced Wednesday in the Ohio General Assembly, after changes were made at the request of advocacy groups for the elderly.

        The measure, sponsored by Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Green Township, is an attempt to slow or stop insurance cost increases for nursing homes in Ohio. Nursing home groups say they have seen insurance premiums rise by 400 percent or more in the last three years.

        Critics say there is no evidence the bill would reverse that trend. They say it unfairly restricts residents and their families from suing over poor care.

        “It effectively ties the resident's hands when she steps into the ring with a nursing home so she cannot fight a fair fight,” said Beverley Laubert, the state's long-term care ombudsman.

        The bill, which passed the House Civil and Commercial Law Committee 6-1, would ban state health inspection reports that cite homes for bad care from being used as evidence in suits. It would also cut the time to file a lawsuit from two years to one year.

        Lawmakers made several changes to the bill before it passed. One would let plaintiffs show patterns of neglect or abuse at homes as evidence in a lawsuit.

        Another would let parents, spouses and any adult child of a nursing home resident file a lawsuit on a relative's behalf. Previously the bill would allow only the legal guardian of a resident to sue.

        “The changes, as we understand them, do help,” said Kathy Keller, communication representative for AARP Ohio, an advocacy group for older Ohioan that still opposes the bill.

        “The whole premise of this is flawed,” she said. “There are insurance solutions to insurance problems, and chipping away at resident's rights isn't the way to do this.”

        The proposal now moves to the full House. Mr. Seitz said he expects the bill to pass within the next few weeks.


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