Law Firms prized for their Knowledge of Elder Care and Novel Approaches to Protecting the Elderly, and the conflicting interests of the Partners and Associates who Own Financial Stakes in Subpar Nursing and Rehabilitation Centers [OPINION]
The right to “sepulcher” in the law is the “right of a family member or next of kin to find solace and comfort in the act of burying a loved one.” Protecting this right alone can be the basis for a highly respectable and extremely lucrative boutique practice for attorneys. A lawsuit based upon that right can be relevant in situations where fallen soldiers are not returned home, victims of terrorist attacks are not returned to their families; and during the Covid-19 pandemic, bodies are improperly buried or even lost. A recent example is the case of Elayne Boosler, wherein a family members was buried at the hands of a guardian’s signature in the wrong cemetery at significant cost. That case is eliciting calls for an investigation. Her story is gruesome and complicated by a system of guardianship that itself is enshrouded in secrecy and disenfranchisement.
In the United States many law firms with highly intelligent and respected attorneys and practices focused on elder care, geriatric medical abuses, estate planning, insurance and disability, medical malpractice and related practices, simultaneously represent some of the worst offenders in nursing home care abuses. Many of the partners in these firms also own financial stakes in nursing homes, either with their clients or not. It is our opinion that these are diametrically opposed practices; and it is nearly impossible for a law firm to maintain the integrity of one practice area while being paid millions to represent the others. That is an opinion premised on what may be a debatable notion of ethics and moral integrity.
Admittedly, Covid-19 has created a mitigating factor in recent history. But our opinion is unwavering: the lack of care for the welfare of the elderly, the lack of interest in dignity and humanity has governed, with a wholehearted disregard for humanity, particularly in law firms with competing interests. This has occurred throughout our entire system of care and of justice. With respect to dignified and responsible elder care, the Covid-19 tragedy has denied the right to tens of thousands of families of nursing and rehabilitation homes’ patients to be physically present for their loved ones in life and, in many cases, to bury those same people who have had their lives taken by the virus.
We would argue that the fault lies though not entirely, with the owners and financial stakeholders of many of these nursing homes and rehabilitation centers. We would posit that they did not take proper precautions during the pandemic, choosing instead the path of least cost routing. Precautions would have undermined owners’ bottom lines. We maintain that the owners and operators were looking at their P/L Statements (Profit and Loss), and ignoring the potential loss of human life. Some nursing homes carry life insurance for their patients and are themselves beneficiaries of those policies. They therefore profit whether their wards live or die. This makes the situation all the more unpalatable.
For those owners whose real life profession is an active and lucrative legal practice, one which focuses on elder care, the rights of the elderly, estate planning and healthcare services, in our view there has always been a weighing of financial averages and significant conflicts. Moreover, the pandemic has increased the value of lobbying governments to reduce nursing home and even medical accountability, a conflicting premise if you are an elder care lawyer.
To add another wrench in the cogs of a lucrative attorney practice that plays both the elder care and nursing home ownership game, it is less expensive to lobby the government for Covid-19 related immunity provisions which protect owners (often themselves) from liability than to save lives and actually engage in “elder care.” It is a simple financial calculation. And at the end of the day, the elderly lose and the attorneys win.
A reasonable analogy would be a car company that hides known and foreseeable danger in manufacturing because the cost of reimbursement for the death of drivers and passengers is less expensive than recalling the vehicles in question. The outcome is based upon purely financial decisions which will continue status quo unless and until significant financial accountability is mandated.
In our view, both in the nursing home context and in the vehicle scenario, conscience and morality simply do not a play a role in the decision-making of owners and operators. In both instances manipulating political clout to obliterate the chance for families to seek financial compensation for loss of life or consortium has made and continues to make the most financial sense. In both analogous situations, if the people in charge are not held to account, both civilly and criminally, these financial equations will take precedent over the value of human life and lives will be lost.
And please remember, in the situation where the lawyers are the owners and operators of nursing homes, they make money either way. Their legal representation on behalf of owners generates bills for tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars in yearly billables. The nursing home ownership is gravy and the more immunity they obtain for themselves and their clients (who are often partnered with them) from liability the richer the returns on all fronts.
The nagging question is this: how can a law firm, any law firm, simultaneously have a blossoming and distinguished practice of elder care, “rights of sepulchre”, estate planning and other related practice areas and at the same time represent owners of some of the most deplorably run nursing homes in the country? We do not think that it is possible without an inescapable conflict of interest, setting aside the ethical and moral obligations to clients within those practice areas. As a securities matter, we would argue that the LLC interests associated with nursing home ownership represent securities interests and that it should be possible to implicate the SEC and its trading regime. That’s just a thought.