Association Not Likely to Push for Liability Cap for Nursing Homes in Ark.

November 14, 2004

No effort is planned in the upcoming Arkansas legislative session to gain approval for a measure that would limit damages that could be awarded in suits against nursing homes, a top industry official says.

A measure to cap punitive damages that could be awarded against nursing homes at $1 million—and to create a liability insurance pool for such facilities—died when the 2003 legislative session ended.

“We are just going to try to stay out of the controversial matter, since it was so controversial,” Jim Cooper of Melbourne, past president of the Arkansas Health Care Association, said at a meeting of the group Wednesday. “We don’t have any intention of bringing forth the tort reform.”

Cooper said the association wants to see how a broader bill limiting liability in damage suits, passed by the Legislature in 2003, affects nursing-home insurance rates.

“So we’ll wait and see,” Cooper said. “Hopefully, the insurance companies will see some trends where (lawsuit) judgments will be lower.”

Cooper said another reason not to seek approval again of the nursing-home liability bill was that some nursing homes have already taken steps on their own to form insurance pools, which had been part of the bill.

The group also heard from Attorney General Mike Beebe, who apologized for using the phrase “bad nursing homes” in discussing problems his office had dealt with.

Beebe said he should have used the phrase “bad incidents in nursing homes” instead of “bad nursing homes.”

“My bad,” he told the association’s members. “I’ve been properly chastised.”

On Oct. 4, in a speech to a rally of Arkansas Advocates for Nursing Home Residents, Beebe spoke of distinctions between good nursing homes and bad nursing homes.

“Some folks (in the nursing home industry) basically didn’t like that terminology, because they really didn’t think it was a bad nursing home. They just thought that some bad incidents happened,” Cooper said after Beebe’s speech.

Cooper said Arkansas could have bad nursing homes, but he doubted they would stay in business.

Beebe told his audience that his office tries to work with nursing homes to improve care. He pointed to a $1.3 million settlement in September he reached with Diversicare Management Services of Franklin, Tenn. He said most of the fine—$900,000—went to improving staff training and installing sprinkler systems in the company’s Arkansas homes.

The attorney general said his office received about 3,800 complaints against nursing homes in 2003 and about 300 merited investigation.

Responding to an association member’s question about how residents’ care was improved by seeking monetary damages, Beebe said his office doesn’t try to punish nursing home operators unless the findings are “egregious.”

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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