In the world of medical care and specifically nursing homes and long-term care facilities, the authority and resources of the federal and state governments to inspect and evaluate nursing home performance, quality of care, staffing levels, and overall compliance with relevant law and regulations, is paramount.
This keeps nursing homes honest, pushes them to hire and train staff appropriately, and to ensure that abuse is eliminated and that residents get the proper attention and treatment rather than have their health and lives risked by neglect. In recent news, and as we’ve discussed in this space numerous times in recent months, the federal government’s rating system was found to have been faulty, limited, and relied on unverified self-reported data from nursing homes when ranking them and evaluating them for consumers. Investigations and inspections are thus all vital parts of this effort, and the federal and certain state governments have ramped up efforts to meet this oversight obligation.
New Proposed Nursing Home Law
There is one specific scenario, however, in the state of Tennessee that may keep nursing home inspectors out of facilities. In recent news, it was reported that a Tennessee state senator and a state representative have joined to introduce a bill that would prevent nursing home inspection findings from being admitted as evidence in nursing home malpractice lawsuits. The proponents of this bill argue that prior inspection and investigation information detailing violations of federal or state laws or regulations would unfairly prejudice the facility being sued in a single lawsuit. They believe that the case should be about the specific underlying incident and associated facts, and that it would be unfair to bring in evidence of separate wrongdoing, violations and past sanctions.
However, opponents of the bill– especially plaintiffs’ attorneys – believe that past negative results and violations of laws and regulations automatically put the onus on nursing homes to comply with the law and improve the quality of care for their residents. Subsequent incidents of abuse or neglect that become the foundation of a civil lawsuit would mean that, if proven, those homes did not meet that obligation. Under this theory, past violations are important as admissible evidence to determine if the facilities have been complying with law. And, simply put, past violations are relevant to current alleged ones.
The bill – Senate Bill 889 and House Bill 714 – furthermore regulates attorney advertising by mandating that if an advertisement mentions a nursing home deficiency (which is often used by plaintiffs firms dealing with nursing home abuse and neglect cases), then that advertisement must also include information about when the deficiency occurred. The purpose of this is to ensure accuracy and timeliness of the information used in the advertisement, and so lawyers do not overstate deficiencies or disingenuously lure prospective clients.
The respective Senate and House versions of this bill first must go through committees or subcommittees for debate and any revising and editing, before heading to the main floors for final votes. And of course the governor would need to sign off to complete the lawmaking process.
Presumably both proponents and opponents will lobby hard to stop it, push it through, or finish with an amended version. It will be interesting to watch given how significant the impact this bill, if passed into law, will have on nursing home malpractice suits in the state of Tennessee, and if the ideas underlying this type of bill eventually make their way to other states for consideration.
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