State Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, is employed as a medical director at a half-dozen substandard nursing homes in Kentucky while he fights in Frankfort to protect the nursing home industry from allegations of abuse, neglect, and wrongful death. Alvarado leads the charge to protect his employers (and campaign contributors) whenever legislation tries to prevent compensation for victims from nursing homes through “tort reform.”
Alvarado has pushed for a constitutional amendment to arbitrarily limit the compensation that can be collected from abuse and neglect claims; 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. His most infamous achievement so far is a 2017 law requiring abuse and neglect claims to pass through “medical review panels” composed of doctors deciding their merit, although most legal experts agree that the legislation is unconstitutional.
“This is going to get rid of frivolous lawsuits,” Alvarado told lawmakers last year as they established the panels. There exists no evidence that frivolous lawsuits were being filed to begin with, and the unconstitutional law has created a large backlog of several hundred credible 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.”
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. These five nursing homes while under the medical direction of Alvarado incurred $416,903 in combined fines over the last three years after state inspectors cited them for serious problems, such as mass scabies outbreaks among residents, medication errors and accidental choking deaths. These are the kinds of places that tend to get sued.
“It’s a conflict of interest if you’re a state senator and you work for a nursing home that’s getting sued a lot and you’re trying to pass laws that make it harder to sue nursing homes. I mean, that seems plain to me,” Glynda Bowling who lost her husband at an Alvarado run facility said.
“I can tell you this, the nursing home companies, they’re a business,” she said. “They’ve got their owners and their shareholders and all they care about is the bottom line, making as much money as possible. So they definitely are not on the same side as the patients.”
Under the Kentucky legislative ethics law, lawmakers can’t participate in the passage of bills that would benefit them in their private sector employment.