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Tulsa World Oped on Nursing Home Abuse

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I saw this great oped in the Tulsa World this morning. The article is by Hugh M. Robert and below. For those of us who represent injured Oklahomans in nursing home abuse cases, we realize the importance of getting insurance for Oklahoma nursing homes. This will create a greater degree of responsibility and allow injured Oklahomans to hold nursing homes liable for their neglect.

“A growing number of nursing homes in Oklahoma are not financially sound and cannot respond to legitimate claims when one of their residents is seriously injured or killed due to neglect or abuse. Often, the company that operates the nursing home and has the license is a shell corporation and has no assets, while another company owns the building and equipment. These nursing home operators also fail to carry liability insurance.

Most Oklahomans are shocked to hear that it’s not a requirement nursing homes carry some kind of insurance. This was the case of Mrs. Cleo Cloud. Her daughter, going through the already stressful decision to place her mother in a nursing home, didn’t think to look for financial solvency or insurance. After her mother was placed in a nursing home, she suffered a terribly painful injury due to the negligence of the home that left her with both her legs broken. Cloud, who endured much suffering and multiple surgeries due to the negligence of the nursing staff, was left with no remedy.

There are at least 56 uninsured homes with 6,621 beds, and the number is likely much higher, but since it is not currently required or reported, we have to rely on unofficial methods of collecting the data. This represents around 20 percent of the total beds in Oklahoma being uninsured; a state study last year speculated the number may be as high as 65 percent. We have asked the state Department of Health to conduct a survey and publish the results of homes not carrying insurance.

If nursing home residents are neglected or abused, they should have the ability to hold the home’s owners responsible. We require people who drive to carry insurance, why should nursing homes be any different? Forcing nursing home operators to show they are financially sound in order to have a license to take care of our elderly citizens just makes sense, especially with the growing elderly population. Most nursing home operators are for-profit companies; carrying liability insurance is a legitimate cost of doing business.

It’s ironic that opponents of the requirement for nursing homes to carry insurance indicate the cost is too prohibitive and they have to choose between providing quality care for their residents or insurance. We believe they can and should do both.

While the same opponents believe the taxpayer should subsidize the cost to carry insurance, it is hard to imagine the taxpayer paying for the increased cost due to negligence or abuse of a nursing home. Nursing homes are generally for-profit and owners enjoy the profits — if neglect or abuse occurs in their nursing home, they should pay the cost, not the innocent patient or taxpayer.

We suspect there is a direct correlation between nursing homes operating in a financially irresponsible manner and the quality of care delivered to residents. If a nursing home knows it cannot be held responsible for neglect or abuse, what motivation does it have to offer a high standard of care?

Robert is executive director of the Oklahoma Center for Consumer and Patient Safety ( www.okccps.org).”