Deficiencies at Capital City Nursing Home Continue Tort Reform Debate

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - What happened behind closed doors at a nursing home in the capital city cost it nearly $21,000. 

"They [maggots] were, like, going inside his penis," a nurse said in the report. "It's just gross. Nasty." 

According to a survey from the Department of Health and Human Services, one resident at Capital Health and Rehabilitation Center, who is completely dependent on others, had maggots in his catheter then contracted a urinary tract infection. 

The report said a second patient, a 92-year-old man with dementia, escaped from the facility twice without any staff members noticing.

The documented deficiencies opened the door to one of the biggest issues in the 2018 election: tort reform.

"You don't put a cap on someone's life," said Col. Mike Ross with Protect Arkansas Families. "We've got to speak for those who can't speak for themselves." 

"It protects the rights of those families to get the settlement without having to be afraid of their attorney taking too much of it," said Carl Vogelpohl, the campaign manager for Arkansans for Jobs and Justice. 

The two groups are going head to head on the constitutional amendment known as Senate Joint Resolution 8, which Arkansas lawmakers passed earlier this year. The proposal would cap damages, both punitive and for pain and suffering, at $500,000 and limit attorney fees to one-third of net damages.

"This is just taking what happened in 2003 that was passed by the legislature and making it part of the Arkansas Constitution, which is what the Supreme Court said the legislature had to do in order to enact those policy changes," said Vogelpohl. 

However, Ross worries the cap would encourage facilities to set aside a specific amount in their operating budget, avoiding accountability.

"You've got to inflict pain every now and then," he said. "And for many of these people, inflicting pain is hitting them in their pocketbook. It's not about the money, though. It's about human lives."

Vogelpohl said a jury would still ultimately decide what someone's life is worth. However, Ross believes if tort reform passes, Arkansans would only see more cases like the one at Capital Health and Rehab. 

"How in the world some of these things happen out there, well, I know how it happens," Ross said. "You don't get what you expect. You get what you inspect, and someone is not inspecting out there."

The Arkansas Supreme Court threw a similar push centered only around medical lawsuits off the ballot last year. 

"I don't think it was struck off the ballot for merit," Vogelpohl said. "Once Arkansans understand how important it is for the state, how important it is to protect their rights, I think it's something that Arkansans will support."

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