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Nursing homes in Arkansas have been flagged for significant medication errors at a rate triple the national average over the past decade, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. And, that is only counting the errors made public.

Most medication errors have been traced to staffing issues; nursing homes typically have high employee turnover, and staffing levels are often kept at a minimum to maximize profits. In the following case, a facility consistently had shortages in certified nursing assistants, leading up to a fatal error on January 11. The shortfalls, though, didn’t rise to the level of violating federal regulations because enough licensed nurses were on duty to keep the total staff-to-resident ratio in compliance.

A 65-year-old nursing home resident died suddenly after a nurse mistakenly gave her another resident’s high-dose narcotics. It was later disclosed that the nurse had previously made multiple significant medication errors, which the facility never reported. In each case, she was “counseled” by a supervisor, but was still allowed to continue administering medication. Furthermore, there was no action plan put in place to monitor her in the future.

Although the nurse was fired, the Arkansas State Board of Nursing reviewed the case and issued her a letter of reprimand, requiring her to complete two courses on giving medication. Her nursing license was only revoked for approximately six months.

The woman’s family subsequently sued the facility and settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.

Under current law, a jury reviews evidence, examines the facts, and awards damages to the injured party based on what they determine is appropriate. Some people, however, believe jury awards are too high. Enter SJR8, set to go before Arkansas voters on next year’s November ballot.

SJR8 would cap punitive and noneconomic damages, as well as limit attorney’s contingency fees. Capping damages, would make it that much harder to hold corporate nursing homes accountable for neglect; it would deprive the elderly and their families of one of their few options for recovery and justice. Furthermore, it shows a distrust of the jury, the fundamental foundation of our Constitutional system.

If passed, this legislation would impose a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages in nursing home and medical negligence cases. In essence, it would mean that human life is worth no more than $250,000, no matter the circumstances or what a jury says. In this country, we trust juries to decide whether a person is guilty of a crime and whether or not he/she should go to prison, yet we can’t trust them to decide how much money a nursing home ought to pay when its negligence causes someone’s death? What’s wrong with this picture?

“Tort reform” has never been about reducing “frivolous claims,” a favorite tag line of the medical and insurance industries. It has always been about limiting access to the courts and reducing awards in serious claims. They do this to offload their obligations onto you, the taxpayers. You see, when disabled plaintiffs are not fully compensated, their awards quickly evaporate and when they can no longer support themselves or their medical burden, Medicare, Medicaid, and other assistance programs kick in.

Patient safety and medical error prevention should be the focus of pro-citizen legislatures and not limiting the obligations of the wrongdoers. Until patient safety is the first priority, lawsuits and trial lawyers are the victims’ only hope. This writer thinks that Arkansas voters deserve the truth.

Mark M. Bello is an attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Legal Thriller Series. He is also the CEO of Lawsuit Financial and the country’s leading expert in providing non-recourse lawsuit funding to plaintiffs involved in pending litigation, 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.

One Comment

  1. Gravatar for Kathy Pearsall

    There is a trend for some of the big nursing home chains to rely heavily on agency staff, and this is where I see a lot of medication errors occurring in Ontario, Canada. If a staff member doesn't know your name, it's highly possible to receive a medication with someone else's name on it. Unfortunately, I live in a country where lawyers don't go after these cases. To add insult to injury, the nursing homes own the agencies they hire from and pay themselves very well.

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