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Steven M. Levin: Nursing Homes Try to 'Lawsuit Proof' Themselves.

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Chicago, ILTwenty years ago, there were almost no rules in place to protect people in nursing homes. "Litigation has improved the situation," says attorney Steven Levin, "but the type of care nursing home residents receive is at best staying the same, and at worst, continuing to decline." And he also sees an alarming trend on the horizon.

Although there is an understanding that nursing home residents are entitled to a certain standard of care, Levin says, "that standard is clearly not being met in many cases."

As a result, 30 percent of the work Levin currently handles involves representing long-term care residents and their families. His firm in Chicago, Levin & Perconti, has won dozens of multimillion-dollar cases over the last 18 years, and he is a recognized expert on the subject. The media, even other lawyers, regularly seek out his views.

As he sees the situation, the major problem with nursing home care is a chronic lack of staff. "There is not enough staff and the staff they do have is improperly trained and underpaid," says Levin. Staff shortage problems, from his perspective, are the result of nursing home operators putting more emphasis on profit, than on patients.

"The typical case we see involves nursing home residents who have what are commonly called bedsores, or pressure sores," he says. "Preventing bedsores requires a lot of time and care. Patients must be turned and repositioned frequently."

His firm recently obtained a record $3 million settlement against a Chicago area nursing home and a doctor, on behalf of a 59-year-old resident who developed painful and infected bedsores, which took four years to heal.

Another record $2.9 million was awarded to the family of a 57-year-old resident who suffocated to death due to the nursing home's negligent care of a tracheotomy tube.

"It is very difficult to provide proper care in an understaffed environment," Levin says. He has seen other cases where negligent care has resulted in malnutrition, dehydration or falls. There are other cases where unsupervised residents wander away from the facility.

Beyond the shadow of a doubt, litigation lawyer Steven Levin has seen some very troubling examples of nursing abuse and neglect. Now he sees something equally frightening. Rather than change their operating models to provide better care for residents, nursing home owners are trying to change their corporate structures to make their operations immune to lawsuits.

"This is a scary and alarming trend," says Levin. "Many nursing homes are operating without liability insurance, or with minimal liability insurance. Others have insurance policies called eroding, or wasting policy. Still others now claim they are 'Judgment Proof'.

"It is a difficult job for us to explain to clients how a nursing home can operate without insurance," says Levin. "In my view it is shocking."

What do families want when they come to Levin? "The families are not only interested in redressing the care that their loved ones did not receive, but are also interested in seeing that this does not happen to other people," he says. "It is a common theme with clients we represent. They care about both of those things.

The lawfirm has an expert witness list: it typically uses experienced long-term care nurses and experienced long-term care home administrators. "We also turn to doctors who specialize in geriatrics and understand the challenges in providing care in a long-term setting," says Levin. And he points out that nursing home owners are more likely to settle, rather than go to trial.

"There is sort of an anecdotal thought that nursing home owners are more afraid of juries because of the general perception in our community that appropriate care is not being given in those facilities," he says." I don't know if that is true or not, I think what a jury reacts to is corporate irresponsibility, putting profits over people.

Steven Levin and other members of Levin & Perconti are involved in the National Citizens Coalition for Nursing Home Reform and other consumer advocacy groups working to improve the quality of care for people in long-term care facilities.

Steven M. Levin is the co-founder and senior partner of Levin & Perconti. Levin has established a reputation as one of the country's top litigators in the highly specialized area of nursing home abuse and neglect. He has been honored as an Illinois Super Lawyer by Chicago Magazine in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 and also been named one of Illinois' top litigators by Leading Lawyers Network.

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