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driving doctors and other providers out of business. Like so much else surrounding tort reform, whether lawsuit abuse was really the cause of soaring premiums rates was fiercely debated in Texas. What wasn’t widely discussed was the cap’s potential impact on nursing homes. It should have been. Caps on non-economic damages disproportionately impact the elderly. That’s simply because most seniors don’t have jobs and can’t prove economic damages such as lost wages. The cap on non-economic damages means that the most that any senior neglected in a nursing home can receive in a malpractice lawsuit, no matter how horrific the abuse, is $250,000. e could talk anybody’s ear off,” Noe Martinez Jr. says of his father. Fit at 45, Noe Jr. has a mop of black hair and a black mustache. He’s sitting in an easy chair in the one-story Edinburg home that he shares with his sister Leticia and her husband. “Everyone around here knew him,” he says, sweeping a hand toward the front door. Almost everyone in downtown Edinburg knew Noe Sr. not because he was a civic leader or a public figure of any kind. He just liked to walk. He walked all over the city center, strolling from the neighborhood north of downtown in which he lived for years to the courthouse square and back. Noe Sr. was outgoing, and on his walks, he easily struck up conversations with people he barely knew. He stayed nearly all his life in Edinburg. Born in nearby Mission, Noe Sr. served a stint in the Army at the end of World War II, though he never saw combat. After the war, he settled with his wife in Edinburg, working at an agricultural company outside town. His wife passed away in October 1965, and Noe Sr. never remarried, raising his six children as a single parent. The first symptoms of Alzheimer’s are easy to miss. In the earliest stages, sufferers just seem forgetful, and when their father began to show signs of the sickness about 10 years ago, Noe Jr. and Leticia didn’t notice. Gradually, the symptoms became clearer. His memory Nursing, continued from page 15 Alliance contributed another $300,000 in corporate funds to TAB’s electioneering efforts, according to the recently released indictments. Remarkably, some of that money may have made its way back to the Alliance’s founder, Goncharenko, who had left Mariner to help build the New York PR firm, Mercury Public Affairs. On October 25, 2002, the day after it received the $300,000 from the Alliance, TAB contracted with Goncharenko’s firm to create “issue ads” on behalf of two Republican legislative candidates in Texas, according to the indictments. All told, of the roughly $2.4 million in corporate money handled by TAB and TRMPAC in 2002, about $400,000 of itor about 17 percentcame from 40 the Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care. That doesn’t include another $400,000 in PAC money that the nursing home industry gave the Texas Republican Party in 2002, including a $250,000 check from Mariner, according to the watchdog group Texans for Public Justice. By contrast, the nursing home industry gave $80,000 to Texas Democrats in 2002 \(about a tenth of After the GOP took control of the Legislature and Craddick was elected speaker, one of the first items on the new leadership’s agenda was tort reform. The bill that passed the Legislature caps so-called non-economic darnagesessentially, awards for pain and sufferingfor each medical malpractice lawsuit at $250,000. \(Twenty-three other states have restricted non-economic damages in some form, though few have enacted caps as low and as stringent as the ones in the Lone Star industry, hospitals, and doctors who had publicly clamored the loudest for the legislation. Nonetheless, the state’s GOP leadership specifically included nursing homes under the cap, devoting an entire section of the bill to the facilities. Tort reformers in Texas insisted the law was necessary to reduce “frivolous lawsuits” responsible for the high medical malpractice rates that were lapses were more common, his walks less frequent. He began to call his grandson by the wrong name. One day, Noe Sr. drove off to visit his brother in town, only to return a short time later saying he couldn’t remember where his brother lived. “I said, ‘that’s it,’ and took his keys away and sold the car,” Leticia remembers. “For a year, he kept asking me about the car.” After Noe Jr. moved in with his father in 2001, the older man’s health seemed to improve. Noe Jr. cooked healthy, balanced meals to keep his father’s diabetes under control, and the old man lost weight. His physical mobility improved. But while he remained physically healthy, his mind continued to falter. He soon couldn’t do basic tasks, like bathing, by himself. Noe Jr. rises for work at 4:30 in the morning to make deliveries for a fruit popsicle company in the Rio Grande Valley. His father’s calls for help became too frequent, and the nights awake comforting the old man started to take a toll. The family admitted Noe Sr. to Edinburg Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center on March 29, 2004. Leticia knows the exact date. She kept a journal of all the pertinent facts regarding her father’s stay in nursing homes. In the beginning, it went well. Edinburg Nursing Home, the first of three nursing homes that Noe Sr. bounced through in just four months, seemed a clean, well-kept place in a scenic, leafy section of town. Noe Jr. noticed the blue and red flowers along the facility’s well-manicured grounds. “I thought if they have fresh flowers, they have to have people taking care of them every day. If they take special care of the flowers, they must be taking extra special care of the patients.” A; ust..n plaintiffs’ attorney David Bragg believes that the civil justice system was the only mechanism in Texas in recent years that kept the worst for profit nursing homes in check. Now that Texas has truncated patients’ abil ity to win damages in court, he fears no one is watching over the industry. A torrent of nursing home abuse, he says, 26 THE TEXAS OBSERVER SEPTEMBER 23, 2005