From the Office of State Senator Rodney Ellis

For Immediate Release
March 9, 1998
Contact: Rick Svataro, (512) 463-0113

Senator Ellis to Offer Legislation to Give AG Authority to Sue Nursing Homes

AUSTIN -- Senator Rodney Ellis will submit legislation to clarify the law giving the Texas Attorney General the power to sue negligent nursing homes for violating Texas health care rules.

The legislation will close a loophole in Texas law that is being used by Texas nursing homes to avoid civil fines levied by the Attorney General's office for substandard or deficient care. The situation stems from a case involving Good Samaritan Nursing Home of Odessa. Last year, state District Judge Jeanne Meurer ruled that Attorney General Dan Morales had no legal authority to sue Good Samaritan for civil fines imposed due to deficient care. The state has appealed the case.

"We cannot allow substandard nursing homes to exploit the courts to avoid punishment," said Senator Ellis. "Until we clarify our nursing home laws, substandard nursing homes will be able to use a backdoor to avoid justice."

In the wake of Judge Meurer's ruling, other nursing homes are trying to exploit the loophole to avoid responsibility for substandard care. This week, 12 nursing homes asked an arbitrator to set aside fines imposed by the Attorney General. A 1995 state law allows nursing homes to choose arbitration rather than have their case heard by a judge. On Wednesday, February 25, 1998 the arbitrator ruled against the nursing homes and stated that the Attorney General has the authority to pursue civil fines against nursing homes. However, until the law is clarified, deficient nursing homes could use the loophole to avoid fines.

"Texas law needs to be clear," said Sen. Ellis. "The people of Texas should not have to rely on the courts to decide, on a basis, whether or not the Attorney General can punish nursing homes. We need to close this loophole now."