What does the future hold for nursing home residents who are abused and neglected? Not much in the state of Wisconsin.
Joshua has spina bifida, is brain damaged, and paralyzed from the chest down. He was living in a group nursing home. In October 2011, when Joshua’s mother went to visit him, she was told that he had been taken to the emergency room for treatment of a bedsore. When the woman arrived at the hospital, she learned of a crater the size of a half-dollar on her son’s buttocks; the wound was a quarter-inch deep and contaminated with feces. Skin, fat and muscle had rotted away. Doctors said the bedsore was Stage IV, the most serious, and that her son had E. coli, as well as bone and staph infections. Doctors feared Joshua would never be able to sit in his wheelchair again and he would be permanently bedridden. Recovery has been slow and painful.
A state health department investigation report found that Joshua had the bedsore for four months before being hospitalized, yet his caregivers never sought medical treatment. Even though required by law, the facility never notified his mother or reported the case to the state.
Joshua’s mother filed a lawsuit seeking punitive and compensatory damages. Unfortunately, a change to Wisconsin’s tort reform law that went into effective in February 2011 states that records from state health investigation, including nursing homes and hospices are not admissible in court. There are witness statements in state inspection reports; you can’t replace those. Oftentimes, these reports are the only way to prove negligence.
Supporters say the law is a means to improve the state’s business climate. I am getting increasingly tired of that justification. Does any state’s business climate really need to protect businesses that harm citizens? Is job creation worth the misery of the victims in questions? What this law really does is shield health care providers that neglect or abuse patients, re-victimize the victims who are already vulnerable, and make it more difficult for victims and their families to be compensated for harmed caused. Legal action is the only means of justice; some of our country’s biggest safety changes come as a result of lawsuits. Burying evidence under the rug may mean the difference between obtaining justice and having a case thrown out for lack of evidence. Is “business” really this important?
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.