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Medical Professional Liability Bill Passes in the House

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Senate Bill 6, relating to medical liability caps for nursing home administrators, was up for passage in the House Tuesday.

Last week, this bill stirred up a lot of controversy during a public hearing. Children and wives of nursing home residents feared the bill would give immunity to corporations in charge of nursing homes who might be involved in malpractice or fraudulent cases. Many shared their own stories of their loved ones dying in the care of nursing homes due to neglect and other acts.

Speakers who were for the bill, however, said it would aid nursing homes that, they claim, are attacked by out of state trial lawyers who might be looking for a quick buck.

Those arguments mirrored the ones on the house floor yesterday. Delegate Tim Manchin spoke out against it.

“What this bill is about is protecting corporations, large business entities that are not rendering healthcare," said Manchin, "They are making economic decisions. That’s all they’re doing. They are not listening to their local facilities, they’re not listening to regional directors; they’re making these decisions in a vacuum.”

Delegate Denise Campbell, also a Democrat, said she has worked in a nursing home for fourteen years.  She explained that many nursing homes are wrongly sued because people don’t understand the rules the facilities have to follow. She held up the book of federal rules for nursing home care.

“That’s one of the biggest reasons nursing homes are sued is because of falls," Campbell said, "Well if you look in this book right here; this book will tell you that you cannot put any type of a restraint on anybody, whether they understand that’s it’s dangerous for them to get up and walk, and you know what, if you even put an alarm on them that sounds that aggravates them, you can get a citation, because you are psychologically restraining them. Okay? I’ve had family members that come in and say, Denise, I do not want my mom to fall. I want you to put something on her that prevents her from getting up out of the chair or prevents her from getting up out of the bed. You know what, I can’t do that, because that is a violation. I cannot restrict their movement. Whether their movement is safe or unsafe, I have to allow them to be able to move.”

Delegate Stephen Skinner expressed his stance by telling a story of a woman who died while in the care of a nursing home in 2009.

“Let’s take a look at what happened to Dorothy Douglas. September 2009, Dorothy Douglas was admitted to Heartland Nursing Home here in Charleston. She was 87, and she suffered from Alzheimer’s, but at the time that she was admitted, she could still walk with the aid of a walker, she was able to recognized her family, and she was able to talk to them," Skinner explained, "After being in Heartland Nursing Home for 19 days, just 19 days, she become dehydrated, malnourished, bedridden, and barely responsive. She had fallen numerous times, she sustained head trauma and bruises, and suffered from sores in her mouth and throat that required scraping away of the dead tissue. She ended up at Cabell Huntington Hospital, and 18 days later, she died as a result of severe dehydration.”

At the last, Delegate John Shott, spoke for the bill and addressed Skinner’s story.

“It certainly is a bill that’s easy to generate emotion over, I don’t think there’s anyone here who hasn’t had an experience with a loved one, a parent or a grandparent or a close friend that has had to go to a nursing home, and I say had to go, because that’s normally not a choice that people readily make," Shott said, "But what I’d like to ask you to do is to more or less disengage the emotional part of yourself, your heart, and engage your brain and let’s try to look at this in a logical and thoughtful manner, and balance all the interests, not just Dorothy Douglas, but all the interests that are involved in setting policy here in the state. And by saying that, I’m not trying to diminish the terrible situation that Ms. Douglas went through. I don’t think anybody here would condone that, but it’s so easy to let one horror story generate so much emotion that it overpowers your ability to analyze and understand what’s at stake.”

Senate Bill 6 passed 76 to 21, with Delegate Tom Fast the only Republican against the bill.


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