TV report questions nursing homes' influence on regulators

A Pittsburgh TV station alleged Wednesday that Pennsylvania's largest nursing home provider group may have undue influence over how state regulators are cooperating with residents and their families' legal counsel.

WTAE reporters say they discovered the Pennsylvania Health Care Association and state Health Department officials jointly crafted a disclaimer on the department's website, warning visitors to not use nursing home reports in lawsuits. The TV report asserted that a PHCA lobbyist pushed the disclaimer as an attempt to thwart efforts by so-called “predatory law firms” that try to use the reports in cases involving negligence and wrongful death claims.

The report highlighted a case in which Highland Park Care Center tried to discourage plaintiff attorneys from using a Health Department report after the death of one of its residents. Operators claimed the government report was “not intended to be evidence of compliance with any legal standard of care in third-party litigation."

PHCA chief executive Stuart H. Shapiro, M.D., stood by that stance Thursday.

"PHCA supported the Pennsylvania Department of Health's posting that the statement of deficiencies is not intended to be evidence of compliance with any legal standard of care in third-party litigation or in advertisements for legal services," Shapiro told McKnight's.

"Over the past five years, Pennsylvania has seen a significant number of lawsuits brought by predatory out-of-state law firms, despite an increase in the overall quality of care in Pennsylvania nursing facilities," he added. "But, let's be clear, these lawsuits are not about care: They are about money."

"We believe nursing homes should be held accountable when they make a mistake," he continued, "but these frivolous lawsuits drive up costs and divert limited resources and dollars away from care, which is the number one priority.”