by Marcus Dorsey [Lexington Herald-Leader Kentucky.com]
State Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, is a doctor who works at nearly a half-dozen substandard nursing homes while he fights in Frankfort to protect the nursing home industry from personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits.
It’s typically Alvarado leading the charge whenever the Kentucky General Assembly tries to curb litigation against nursing homes through “tort reform.” His crowning achievement so far is a 2017 law requiring malpractice suits to pass through “medical review panels” composed of doctors deciding their merit, although the Kentucky Supreme Court this fall is considering a constitutional challenge to that law.
“This is going to get rid of frivolous lawsuits,” Alvarado told lawmakers last year as they established the panels.
The law has created a large backlog of several hundred malpractice cases awaiting assignment and review by state-appointed panels before they can proceed to court, while relatively few cases have been decided.
“The medical review panels are all about delay,” said Lexington attorney Christopher Goode, who has represented nursing home residents and their families.
“For nursing home plaintiffs who are elderly or sick, it’s even more punitive because you’re basically running out the clock on them,” Goode said. “If they haven’t died already as a result of whatever happened to them in the facility, making them wait nine months or more just to get in the courthouse door is certainly meant to be a roadblock.”
Alvarado also has pushed for a constitutional amendment to limit the damages that can be collected from malpractice suits; a requirement that the suits begin with an “affidavit of merit” from expert witnesses vouching for each claim; and a cap on plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees in such cases, among his other malpractice-related bills.
Alvarado has skin in the game.
He is employed as the medical director at five Central Kentucky nursing homes whose quality was rated this year as “below average” or “much below average” by the U.S. Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services based on annual inspections. They are Mayfair Manor, Cambridge Place and Providence Pine Meadows in Lexington, Fountain Circle Care and Rehabilitation Center in Winchester and Diversicare of Nicholasville.