Dr. Keith Knapp: Elder care target of lawsuits that weaken quality

March 14, 2014 

Dr. Keith Knapp is president & CEO of Christian Care Communities.

Kentucky's senior living and home-and-community-based elder-care providers aim to serve people who have reached a stage in life when they can live more securely, safely and confidently with the assistance of others.

It is common for us to enter their lives when they are already experiencing difficult physical, mental or emotional challenges. We try to do our best every day to support them in the most appropriate fashion. It can be physically and emotionally draining work, but there are few endeavors that hold more promise for professional and personal satisfaction.

It is a work environment with a lot of moving parts, and one subject to human imperfection. We are not, nor would we claim to be, flawless. But follow one of our caregivers for a day, and I trust you will walk away with admiration for his or her heart and drive to help others.

In the past few years, Kentucky has gradually fallen prey to legal gamesmanship masquerading as protection of the public from unscrupulous or substandard elder-care providers and other health- care professionals. Lawsuits have increasingly been brought — often with out-of-state attorneys representing the plaintiffs — with the primary tactic of scaring health providers and their insurers into settling claims of poor outcomes rather than risking a costly trial and potentially adverse publicity.

And this scenario is not unique to the health care or senior living fields. It affects virtually any company conducting business in — or considering bringing its business to — Kentucky.

As our General Assembly decides how to best allocate public resources to address a complex set of competing and worthy needs, it makes little sense to allow such a significant amount of time, money and energy to be diverted from providing quality care. It makes just as little sense to leave in place the economic development barrier of an exceedingly litigious business environment.

Kentucky has no process currently to screen and separate frivolous malpractice claims from those with medical merit. However, more than 30 other states have passed alternative dispute resolution mechanisms without eroding an individual's constitutional right to sue someone he or she believes has harmed him or her.

Senate Bill 119 does just that by introducing an element of common sense to an out-of-control liability environment. It is not about denying or delaying access to the courts, as some of its detractors assert.

The bill has already passed the Senate, and I urge members of the House and Gov. Steve Beshear to favorably consider it as well.

Dr. Keith Knapp is president & CEO of Christian Care Communities.

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