On February 1, 2012, state Representative Melvin Henley introduced new legislation that would change the way nursing home abuse and neglect cases would be handled in Kentucky. The proposed legislation, House Bill 361, would require all complaints of abuse or neglect against any long-term care facility to be heard by a medical review panel before the case could proceed to trial.
The medical review panel would be comprised of one attorney and three doctors. The attorney would be agreed upon by the facility and the resident first; then the selected attorney would help them find the physicians. After hearing from both sides, the three physicians would each vote whether or not they thought the claim was valid. The parties could use this information to settle the claim, to drop the charges, or to move forward toward trial, with the medical review panel's opinion as potential evidence.
Proponents of the bill state that it does not prohibit nursing home residents from taking their cases to trial, nor does it limit the amount of damages that could be awarded. They also point to Indiana and Louisiana as states that have seen a drop in liability costs since they adopted the use of medical review panels. They view this as a result of frivolous lawsuits being stopped before they go to trial.
Those who oppose the bill, including AARP of Kentucky and the Kentucky Justice Association think the bill will be detrimental to those seeking justice. Residents or their families that have already been injured or suffered the loss of a loved one because of nursing home neglect or abuse would now have one more hoop to jump through before receiving any compensation they are owed. Those wanting to pursue legal action may have to pay a $100 fee for the medical review board, and adding this extra step will likely delay the final outcome of the case, causing additional emotional and financial stress. "The overall concept of increasing costs and delaying justice for people who are doing nothing wrong" is not appropriate, stated Maresa Fawns, the executive director of the Kentucky Justice Association. She also noted that some studies have shown that the medical review boards tend to vote in favor of the long-term care facilities over the victims.