When Governor Scott Walker faces Wisconsin voters in 2014, he’ll be running on a record of confronting public worker unions, turning down Medicaid expansion that would have covered 181,000 Wisconsinites and creating far fewer than the 250,000 new jobs he promised.
And if that isn’t enough, he can run on the Wisconsin Omnibus Tort Reform Act of 2011.
One of the first bills Walker signed into law, these reforms were taken almost entirely from the Koch-funded legislative warehouse of the Billionaire Rights Movement, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
The legislation prevents state health investigation records from being admitted as evidence in any civil or criminal cases against long-term care providers, including nursing homes and hospices.
Sarah Karon of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism looked into the impact of the reform and found that the families of patients who often cannot testify on their own behalf are powerless to redress abuse and neglect.
In one case, Joshua Wahl — a paraplegic patient with spina bifida and brain damage — had a bedsore left to fester for months before he was finally hospitalized, according to a state investigator.
“It scares me for those who put their trust in a facility,” said Karen Nichols-Palmerton, Wahl’s mother. “It scares me to think of things that could be brushed aside. I don’t rest so easy anymore.”
Nichols-Palmerton is suing the facility, but the investigator’s report will not be heard in court, thanks to the Wisconsin Omnibus Tort Reform Act of 2011.
Why did Walker and Wisconsin’s Republicans decide records documenting such abuse shouldn’t be admissible in court?
It isn’t good for business.
“Each of these (proposals) is aimed at one thing — jobs,” said Brian Hagedorn, Walker’s chief legal counsel, during a hearing for the bill. “These changes send a symbolic and substantive message that Wisconsin is open for business.”
State investigators’ reports are published online. But a Department of Justice spokeswoman told Karon that the law makes it difficult to prosecute abuse and neglect cases at early stages, when severe injuries or death can be prevented.
Nursing homes that accept Medicaid or Medicare must be investigated every 15 months. Non-federally certified facilities are investigated by the states every two years. Wisconsin has cut its staff of nursing home surveyors by more than 30 percent, even as complaints about such facilities have risen by more than 100 percent since the year 2000.
Walker’s record of opening Wisconsin “for business” and turning away from its grand tradition of progressivism hasn’t had such a great effect on job creation. And the cost, especially for those forced to rely on long-term care, is falling squarely on the most vulnerable.