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What the landmark Skilled Healthcare Group verdict could mean for others

July 8, 2010
by JRosenfeld
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I guess there's probably a lot a screaming and yelling going on at the Skilled Healthcare Group headquarters in California. Perhaps the anger derives from the miserable looking financial chart for the company showing a whopping 75% decline in price per share in one day!

Another portion of the company’s anger is probably being misdirected at the lawyers who defended the company in a class action lawsuit brought against Skilled Healthcare Group based on systematic under-staffing at 22 nursing homes owned by the corporate giant. Really, the only people to blame are the managers in the company who intentionally chose to limit that staffing at their facilities.

After hearing months of evidence regarding staffing levels at the nursing homes operated by Skilled Healthcare Group, the jury awarded the maximum amount permissible under the California Health and Safety Code—a whopping $671 million to the members of the class.

The massive jury award is hardly an arbitrary number. Rather, the compensatory damages were awarded based on a statutory violation of $500 per-patient per-day at the 22 subject facilities for not providing the state minimum staffing of 3.2 hours for each patient living at the nursing homes on a daily basis.

In addition to the compensatory damages, the lawsuit also seeks punitive damages against Skilled Healthcare Group. Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages are intended to punish the wrongdoer for their acts. The punitive aspect of the lawsuit will move forward in the coming weeks. I'm sure that it will take some time before any of the plaintiffs involved in this case receive any portion of the recovery.

This verdict will likely force nursing home operators to re-evaluate the way they operate and the decisions they make with respect to staffing levels at their facilities. Sadly, when facilities are short staffed, nursing home residents suffer. I have seen that under-staffing in nursing homes continually contributes to incidents of nursing home abuse and neglect.

Dare I say that this verdict may improve the quality of life of residents—not only those at Skilled Healthcare Group facilities, but for others who suffer the effects of systematic under-staffing at other facilities across the country?

Jonathan Rosenfeld is a lawyer who represents people injured in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Jonathan has represented victims of nursing home abuse and neglect throughout Illinois and across the country. Visit his personal blog at

www.nursinghomesabuseblog.com

and his Web site

BedsoreFAQ.com

.

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Comments

It is about time!

Jack Halpern, CEO
My Elder Advocate
www.myelderadvocateblog.com

Seems like there's a lot of strong opinions regarding this verdict and there should be. However, let's not forget that Skilled Healthcare knowingly short-changed 1,000's of its patients who rely on them for care.

Of course the numbers involved are huge, but this company was well aware of the minimum nursing allotments and made a decision to cut corners. Also, lets not forget that the jury rendered this verdict pursuant to the statutory fines on the books related to nursing infractions.

Whatever you opinion is with respect to the verdict, does anyone really believe that cutting corners with respect to staffing levels in nursing homes is a good thing? As I said or meant to say before, this verdict will hopefully act as a wake-up call to companies who intentionally under-staff their facilities.

While it is difficult to asses the harm to patients that resulted from the under-staffing, don't we owe it to all nursing home patients the opportunity to live in the safest and most enjoyable environment possible?

In this particular case, were there any negative patient outcomes? In Massachusetts the regulations state we must have 'adequate' staffing. Everyone's opinion of adequate is different. If they proved some sort of harm, fine, but most likely it is just another case of dumping on long term care facilities where daily we are forced to care for sicker and sicker patients with less and less reimbursement from insurance.

Looks like we can hope for better staffing so there will be no need for attorneys who pray on nursing homes

Are you kidding me?? I can't believe that you featured such a negative article about nursing homes in general by Mr. Rosenfeld (an ambulance chaser that calls himself an attorney). Well we "continuing care professionals" as your magazine refers to us, know that there is all the negative press you want out there about nursing homes, but you have to dig and dig to find anything positive. Your contribution makes my blood boil!

Thank you everyone for your comments.

I disagree with the sentiment that Mr. Rosenfeld was being harsh to nursing home operators or promoting bad press. This situation was spun as a cautionary tale for operators by Rosenfeld, and he specifically states that he hopes the outcome of this case will improve the lives of residents in illegally under-staffed facilities.

JRosenfeld

http://www.nursinghomesabuseblog.com

Jonathan Rosenfeld...