Kentucky Senate Bill 9, a proposed bill advocated by the nursing home industry, made it out of committee yesterday and could be voted on as early as tomorrow. Senate Bill 9 helps nursing homes avoid responsibility for neglect and abuse suffered by patients in their facilities, and delays justice for those elderly and disabled patients.

Through Senate Bill 9, the nursing home industry is pushing for the creation of “Review Panels” to evaluate the merits of a patient injury claim before that claim can proceed against a nursing facility. The panels will be made up of three medical professionals, all members of the healthcare industry who may have conflicting financial interests to deny legitimate abuse and neglect claims.

Members of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee voted along party lines yesterday with all Republicans voting for SB9, and all Democrats opposed. In an unusual procedural move, Committee Chairwoman and co-sponsor Senator Julie Denton ordered a vote on the bill before those advocating against Review Panels were allowed to speak. It was only after the vote was taken, and several committee members left the meeting, that those speaking against the bill were allowed to voice their concerns.

If SB9 is passed, we should all be fearful. For those of us who have loved ones in these facilities and for those of us who may need their services some day, passage of this bill gives nursing homes and other long-term care facilities the green light to conduct “business as usual” for profit’s sake rather than in the best interest of their patients.

The Review Panels are merely tactics by the nursing home industry to delay justice for neglected and abused nursing home patients. The only things passage of this bill will accomplish is increasing the size of government because of the necessary bureaucracy that “Review Panels” will create; increasing costs associated with evaluating claims; and delaying justice for those injured.

It is disturbing that the nursing home industry is pushing so hard for passage of this legislation. In their media blitz, nursing homes are using the current most popular “buzz phrase” claiming this bill is all about fending off “frivolous lawsuits” and preserving capital for patient care. We think if the nursing home industry is truly concerned about expending its resources on caring for patients, wouldn’t its resources be better spent on improving patient care by hiring additional qualified workers, providing additional training and improving care facilities rather than lobbying to deny someone’s Constitutional right to a jury trial?

We suspect the nursing facilities that are pushing so hard for this bill are the same facilities that have repeated documented violations of standards of care, who fail state and federal inspections, and who are being monitored regularly by state and federal officials because of continuing problems with abuse and neglect in their facilities. A recent nursing home inspection report finds that Kentucky ranks first in the nation in the number of serious deficiencies per nursing home, on average, and ranked first in federal fines in 2012.

The only things these panels will accomplish are eliminating accountability for nursing facilities, and limiting access to the courthouse by those elderly and disabled people who are being abused and neglected by the very people entrusted to care for them.

As AARP Kentucky State President Jim Kimbrough warned, “Senate Bill 9 would discourage nursing home residents and their families to go to court with a legitimate claim of neglect, abuse, exploitation. [It] will do nothing to improve the quality of care in nursing homes.”

The nursing home industry is attempting to delay justice by denying access to the courthouse for our elderly and disabled citizens, denying them their constitutional right to a trial by jury. We protect our children because they are so vulnerable. Shouldn’t we similarly protect our elderly and disabled citizens?

Please call your State Senator today at 1-800-372-7181 and tell him/her to Vote No on Senate Bill 9! If you do not know who your State Senator is, here’s a link to find out: https://cdcbp.ky.gov/VICWeb/index.jsp