Since the dawn of time, trial lawyers and medical groups have been at war, locked in a battle over legislation to give one an advantage over the other.
Nearly everyone in The Process knows this, and it’s not likely to change anytime soon.
What’s not widely known are the direct ties between certain so-called “patient advocacy groups” and trial lawyers with dollar signs in their eyes, looking to capitalize on potentially lucrative opportunities.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, all this has bubbled back to the surface. There are lots of conversations on what could have been done better — in fact, House Speaker Richard Corcoran created a select committee to investigate how the state and private sectors can be better prepared for the next major storm.
The poster child for what went wrong during Irma was the preventable tragedy of 14 elderly residents who died at the Hollywood Hills Nursing Center. Lawyers on both sides will thrash through what happened, but just about everyone can agree there were significant mistakes made.
One isolated catastrophe does not mean the state must step in and set up regulation after regulation that would affect each of the 600+ nursing homes in Florida — not when the tragedy was confined to one home.
Yet even before the hurricane debris is off the streets, attorneys and lawmakers were hard at work trying to ride the media wave to pass legislation that would change the dynamic between nursing homes and trial attorneys.
There are entire law firms that focus solely on nursing home-related cases. Some of those cases are absolutely warranted as the Hollywood Hills case appears to be. But oftentimes the cases are clearly attempting to reap a huge payday and rack up high-dollar legal fees.
One of the groups purporting to “advocate for quality nursing home care” goes by the upbeat name Families for Better Care. Brian Lee, who previously headed Florida’s long-term care ombudsman program, leads the group.
Lee’s seemingly independent organization is advocating for more regulations and restrictions on nursing homes — and possibly changes to tort law — to make it easier to sue these homes.
It turns out, he has a good reason. Law firms make up a very significant portion of the contributions to Lee’s group.
For instance, from 2011 to 2015, Tampa-based law firm Wilkes & McHugh — whose website touts its experience suing nursing homes — gave more than a half-million dollars to Families for Better Care. That number doesn’t even include contributions from the last couple years.
In an interview with Sunshine State News in 2014, Lee described his relationship with the law firm: “I have to admit, we wouldn’t be able to exist without Wilkes & McHugh.”
While the folks at Wilkes & McHugh might explain it away as simply supporting a good cause, the reality is that Families for Better Care will almost certainly be a vocal advocate for legislation benefiting trial attorneys — particularly firms making a living by suing nursing homes and assisted living facilities statewide.
From now through Sine die in (hopefully) March, lawmakers need to take a close look at nursing home regulations. Things like requiring generators — with a reasonable timeline for implementation — seem like a good idea. But legislative leaders need to use a scalpel to modify the laws we already have on the books, not a hatchet to wipe away years and years of well-reasoned policies.
Regardless, as this issue — with its limitless “proposed solutions” — makes its way through the legislative process, follow the money and keep an eye out for groups purporting to be on the side of the consumer.
It’s entirely possible they’re really just looking to score a big payday for a handful of law firms.