The nation's nursing homes are facing a dramatic rise in costly consumer lawsuits, alleging everything from wrongful death to inadequate care resulting in painful bedsores, according to a study released by the American Health Care Association. The number of claims filed against nursing homes reached 15.3 for every 1,000 occupied beds in 2003, up from 13.8 in 2002 and 4.8 in 1992, the survey of 108 long-term-care operators found. The average size of a liability claim was $149,000 in 2003, more than double the $65,000 average in 1992 but down significantly from a peak of $187,000 in 1998. As a result, the cost of malpractice insurance for nursing homes jumped an average 51% last year, following increases of 143% in 2002 and 131% in 2001. All told, the average liability cost per nursing home bed -- a figure that includes both malpractice insurance and litigation costs -- climbed to $2,290 last year, from $2,050 in 2002 and $310 in 1992. In Florida, a state with a particularly large population of nursing home residents and strong patients rights legal protections, the cost reached $8,170 in 2003, more than three times the national average.
A separate study found that more than one-third, or 37%, of California's 1,400 nursing homes did not meet minimum nurse-staffing standards in 2002, and 78% did not pass federal safety inspections. According to the study, released by the California HealthCare Foundation, low staffing and high turnover rates contributed to poor quality care and a 38% increase in complaints from 2000 to 2002. Forty-three percent of nursing homes received warnings from state regulators for minor problems in 2002, while 26% received fines and citations for more serious violations. Nearly half the state's nursing homes reported no profits or net losses in 2002, and 160 were in bankruptcy from 1999 to 2002. Overall, not-for-profit facilities fared better than their for-profit counterparts, the study found. -- by Laura B. Benko