SAN FRANCISCO — During Cindy Cool's almost daily visits to the nursing home, she would routinely find her Alzheimer's-suffering father wearing urine-soaked clothes.
The Blue Lake, Calif., resident said it would take upwards of 20 minutes for the apparently short-handed staff of Eureka Healthcare and Rehabilitation to respond and help Cool clean her father. Other patients fared worse, she said.
"A lot of times I walked out of there crying because of the things I saw," Cool said.
She provided key testimony before a Humboldt County jury last month slammed the owners of her father's nursing home with a $677 million verdict, sending shockwaves through the industry and rekindling calls for tort reform.
The verdict as it stands is already thought to be the largest in the country this year and its ramifications are still being sorted out weeks after the jury surprised even the plaintiffs' lawyers with the size of their verdict. Tort reformers have seized on the verdict as the latest example of litigation abuse.
The company's stock price has plunged on fears it will have to file bankruptcy. Cool, 58, was part of a class-action lawsuit representing 32,000 patients that blamed the nursing home staff shortage for the misery she encountered — echoing a common complaint across the country that for-profit nursing homes are too concerned with the bottom line.
After Wall Street investment firms went on a nursing home buying spree during the early years of the new century, critics charge that many companies drastically cut payroll expenses to prop up stock prices.
Many of the 16,100 homes nationwide are owned by public companies. The home where Cool's father lived, and where he died in 2006, is owned by Skilled Healthcare Group Inc., which is traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
On July 6, the Humboldt County jury found that Skilled Healthcare on numerous occasions violated state regulations requiring it to keep a minimum number of nurses on duty at its 22 homes in the state.