When corporations prioritize their bottom line over patient safety and health, catastrophic consequences may ensue. A Florida jury recently recognized that a nursing home chain, operated and controlled by Trans Healthcare, valued profits over quality of services rendered to residents. The jury awarded $900,000,000 to the estate of Joseph Webb, a carpenter and pastor in his mid-70s, who resided in a Gainesville Florida nursing home for care following a stroke, which left his left side paralyzed. He developed bedsores and infections which led to his right leg being amputated above the knee.
At trial, plaintiff's counsel called to the stand former employees of the Gainesville home, who testified as to a constant lack of supplies, staff shortages and other institutional shortcomings at the facility in the mid-2000s. The lack of supplies and care led to the sores and infections, according to plaintiff's geriatric medicine experts.
The jury also heard testimony that there had been insufficient amounts of pain medication as Webb struggled with a number of symptoms secondary to the amputation, including phantom pain and a sore in the vicinity of the coccyx that became severely infected. Prior to the amputation, Mr. Webb had been relatively active despite his stroke. The infection and amputation severely diminished his quality of life, taking away what little lower-body function he had left on the right side of his body.
The jury awarded $100 million in damages for negligence causing bodily injury, $100 million for abuse and neglect causing injury, and $700 million in punitive damages. The company, Trans Health, sought bankruptcy and other corporate protections and elected to abandon defense of malpractice and elder abuse action in 2010, which allowed for the entry of numerous "default" judgments. Experts in accounting and tax investigations testified that the corporate officials who controlled Trans Healthcare valued profits over services rendered to residents. The jury obviously agreed.
The idea of a nursing home operator placing profits over patient welfare is hard to fathom. As members of the community, we tend to trust that our health care providers are doing a service by providing care to those who need it most - the frail, elderly. But make no mistake, for-profit nursing home chains are a big business, with budgets and goals. If publicly traded, they answer to stockholders. Our elderly parents and grandparents are the instrumentality by which they seek to make a profit. And when it comes to allocation of resources, many businesses will spend a pile of money to protect themselves and defend their conduct (such as the bankruptcy and other legal maneuvers cited herein), but restrict the flow of that same money when it comes to day-to-day services.
For more information:
Webb v. University Place