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This week from Charleston

By Staff | Feb 20, 2015

Another week of the legislative session means another week where the rights of everyday West Virginians are eroded. The House passed SB 6 that provides immunities to corporate nursing home business decisions that risk patient care because of inadequate staffing. Under this extremely broad bill, a nursing home that hires a known sex offender who then assaults or rapes patients would be protected and given immunity. Additionally, if a patient is seriously hurt or dies and then evidence is destroyed or the records or altered to cover up the truth, the company will now be protected by state law.

This is the type of conduct we should be cracking down on, not encouraging by providing immunity. The story of this bill begins on Sept. 4, 2009, when 87-year-old Dorothy Douglas was admitted to Heartland Nursing Home in Charleston, West Virginia. When she was moved to a hospital 19 days later she was suffering from malnourishment and dehydration. Her doctor later testified that he potassium levels were so extreme that her brain “fried.” Eighteen days later, Mrs. Douglas died. The cause of death was dehydration. A jury later agreed that the nursing home had so severely understaffed its operation to save money that its conduct deserved punitive measures. The jury decided that the parent corporation had a pattern and practice of understaffing in order to increase its profits. That understaffing meant that Dorothy Douglas died because she didn’t have access to water because there wasn’t enough staff to get it for her. This bill would immunize the business decision to understaff nursing homes by calling those decisions “medical care.” Refusing to give nursing home patients adequate water is not medical care. It’s torture.

From this atrocious case, the legislative action should have been to crack down on these gross abuses. This year, however, the reaction is to immunize out of state billion-dollar corporations so they will not face additional serious financial penalties for this abhorrent behavior. This bill was terrible to start with, but I offered several amendments to try to make it more moderate, but the new leadership rejected the amendments including amendments that would remove the immunity in cases that involved criminal actions, destruction of evidence and fraud. Another amendment would have prohibited immunity to corporations who violate staffing requirements under West Virginia or Federal law. This was defeated on a nearly party-line vote.