Bill would ban nursing home inspections in court cases

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- One patient choked to death, another claimed he was raped. WREG has uncovered new and very disturbing details about problems at a local nursing home.

The On Your Side Investigators also discovered these same details could be kept secret.

An inspection report from federal and state health surveyors shows Signature Healthcare at St. Peter Villa in MidTown Memphis was hit with more than 20 deficiencies in August of 2014.

Read full report here.

The survey shows one resident choked to death after the facility failed to provide the proper diet, neglected to monitor the patient during meals, and never even attempted a maneuver to stop the choking.

It also reveals Signature Healthcare at St. Peter Villa "failed to thoroughly investigate" an alleged rape.

The resident wasn't sent to the ER for a rape kit, and the nursing home never even notified police.

The On Your Side Investigators recently uncovered problems at another Memphis nursing home owned by the same company.

Dozens of viewers contacted WREG after our report on Signature Healthcare at Saint Francis.

One wrote in an email, "My grandfather died in the care of the staff at Signature Nursing home."

Another said in a Facebook message, "My mother was Resident #5 in the story you did last night about Signature Healthcare. So glad you have put this out there."

However, details like the horrific ones in the surveys we revealed could soon be kept secret, if a bill sponsored by Tennessee State Senator Brian Kelsey and Representative Leigh Wilburn becomes law.

Senate Bill 889 would prohibit survey and investigation results from being used as evidence in malpractice cases.

Read bill here.

Cameron Jehl is a Memphis Attorney who has sued nursing homes before. He opposes the proposed legislation.

"If the nursing homes violates federal law and federal regulations, they're required to comply with in order to keep and take care of the elderly, then they should be held accountable for their actions," Jehl said.

However, Senator Kelsey says attorneys will sometimes misuse negative survey results to paint nursing homes with a broad brush, rather than focusing on a single incident that led to a injury or fatality.

"I think we have to look at the instances when this information should be available and what are the instances in which it's being used in a way that's not exactly the full and 100 percent truth," Kelsey said.

The bill also addresses ads that law firms often run in newspapers about problems at nursing homes.

It stipulates that if the ad mentions a deficiency, it also must be noted if and when the deficiency was corrected.

Proponents say the advertisements, often run by out of state law firms, don't always include timely information.

When asked about using inspections in court cases, and how such evidence could be used on behalf of a plaintiff to reveal a pattern of problems that the nursing home has been made aware of, Senator Kelsey told WREG, "This is really just the beginning of the conversation. This bill will be amended when it goes through the committee process. It will get a full hearing."

Jehl added, "These nursing homes, when they neglect and abuse the elderly, they have to be held accountable."

The Senate version of the bill heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee.  The house version is going to the Health Subcommittee.

To check out inspections for nursing homes or compare facilities in the Memphis area, go here.

Inspections can also be found at this state site.

WREG reached out to the administrator of Signature Healthcare at St. Peter Villa but we have yet to receive a response.

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