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Partners in Slime 

The California service employees' union and the nursing home industry join forces to increase corporate profit, grow union membership, and sell out abused nursing home patients

Wednesday, Jun 30 2004
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Page 3 of 3

Translation: Liability insurance will become more affordable for nursing home owners once we make it more difficult for abused patients to sue.

Under the nursing home industry proposal being advanced by SEIU lobbyists, judgments obtained against nursing home owners for pain and suffering would be capped at $250,000. The proposal would also change current state law -- which says nursing home owners may be liable for damages if they are proven "reckless" in caring for patients -- so that nursing homes could be sued only if it could be proved that they willfully harmed patients.

By changing legal standards in this way, the "reforms" would make it more difficult for patients to use previous nursing home violations of health care codes as evidence in elder-abuse lawsuits; it would no longer matter if nursing home owners were reckless, much less merely negligent. To prevail against nursing home owners, victims would have to prove that those owners intentionally caused harm -- a standard that is much harder to meet. The "reforms" would also keep injured nursing home patients who win in court from recouping their attorneys' fees, unless their attorneys came from the same "geographic region" as the patients -- thereby preventing patients from hiring out-of-town lawyers experienced in the recalcitrant ways of the most unscrupulous nursing home owners.

"We would not support their effort to put caps on claims. They're not talking about just some claims, but even the most egregious abuses would be capped," says de la Cruz, the AARP lobbyist. "They were also looking to change the definition of the Elder Abuse Act, so that recklessness wouldn't be included. It would have to be knowing and willing. The idea that a nursing home would put this into a memo is ridiculous. It's clearly an attempt to keep nursing home residents from exercising their legal rights."

Sal Rosselli, the Bay Area SEIU leader, described his union's pact with the nursing home industry as a new form of employer-employee solidarity. "As this relationship changes, we are experiencing employers not resisting their workers who want to join us," Rosselli said. "Traditionally employers put huge amounts of money and time in anti-union campaigns. As relationships change and we collaborate more toward common goals, we expect these employers will save money they spent resisting organizing drives."

Rosselli told me that there's an actual, formal agreement giving organizers better access to nursing homes, but that he didn't have it at hand to describe in detail.

"I'll have to get back to you on that," he said, and then didn't.


Though I wasn't there, I'm told the June 19 march was a glorious affair in which blue-collar workers of all ethnicities and ages walked across the world's most beautiful bridge and shouted support for the truly righteous cause of quality, affordable health care for all Americans.

SEIU members were right to applaud when John Kerry publicly adopted the union's health care motto, because in a just America, people wouldn't suffer or die for lack of good medical care. And SEIU members would be right to be outraged that their union's California leadership appears to have done the political equivalent of selling its soul.

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Matt Smith

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