Exactly one year has passed since a tragic, preventable fire occurred at the Anderson Guest House, taking 11 lives. It is a subject that has been addressed numerous times in this blog. I have noted the shortcomings of the media, and most especially the state government, in the continued ability of convicted felon Robert Dupont to continue to run group homes in Missouri.
As happens many times following times of tragedy, we see what our state legislators are made of.
Much praise has been given to Rep. Kevin Wilson, R-Neosho, and he deserves every bit of it, for his bill requiring group homes to install sprinklers.
Unfortunately, as Rep. Wilson and others have battled to make sure that those who are least capable of caring for themselves are protected, other legislators have stood in the way of legislation designed to make group homes and nursing home safer...and one of those legislators is from this corner of the state.
In my recently published book, The Turner Report, I noted the extraordinary steps taken by Rep. Bryan Stevenson, R-Webb City, to throw a roadblock into reforms that were passed during the 2006 legislative session. This passage is taken from the book:
As some legislators were pushing for Kevin Wilson’s bill, efforts were already underway to undercut safety requirements for nursing homes and group homes that were passed in 2006, only this time the efforts were taking place behind closed doors.
Fortunately, for the public and for those who cannot take care of themselves and must rely on the kindness and compassion of state legislators, one elected official saw what was going on and leaked the information to David Catanese of KYTV in Springfield, author of the KY3 Political Blog.
In his Jan. 22, 2007, post, Catanese wrote about the backdoor machinations of Rep. Bryan Stevenson, R-Webb City:
“Stevenson is pushing a motion in a committee to strip close to two dozen Department of Health and Senior Services rules from legislation designed to regulate the residential facility industry.
“Stevenson, the vice-chair of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR), said his motion, ‘in no way reflects his opinion of the legislation.’
" ‘Our committee has a very narrow focus, and that is to ensure rules and regulations fit within our guidelines. There were 120 pages of regulations. A few went beyond statutory limits allowed,’ Stevenson said. ‘They didn't fit in the framework of the statute.’
" ‘But this is not a policy debate. If a Representative or Senator wants to introduce legislation to allow these changes, that is a different story," he added.
“Stevenson's motion includes stripping language requiring background checks for workers in facilities, specific responsibilities for workers during an emergency, immunizations for residents and staffing provisions.”
Catanese’s exposure of Stevenson’s gambit saved the regulations as the Webb City Republican backed down and cast his vote in favor of the changes, but the question remained. Why would Stevenson try to throw a monkey wrench into regulations that would improve safety and perhaps save lives?
Perhaps Stevenson is simply a stickler for detail, but there could be another explanation. An examination of campaign finance documents filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission shows Stevenson has an extremely friendly relationship with the nursing home industry.
That is evident in the disclosure report filed eight days before the 2006 general election. In this report, which was issued when campaign contribution limits were still in effect for Missouri candidates, Stevenson received maximum $325 contributions from the Missouri Health Care Association, the most powerful group representing the nursing home industry, District C of the Missouri Health Care Association, and Cornerstone Healthcare, Rogers, Ark.
Even more telling were nine contributions, totaling $2,275, received by Stevenson on Oct. 20, 2006. These included $325 contributions from the Health Care Association Good Government Fund, Missouri Assisted Living PAC, Residential Care Facility PAC, MORESPAC, Burlington Northern Railway, and the Rural Telecommunications PAC. Two hundred fifty dollars contributions were received from the Missouri Pharmacy PAC and the Missouri Community Pharmacy PAC.
Many of those names are not associated with the nursing home industry, but they have one thing in common- they are represented by one of the most powerful lobbying firms in Missouri- Gamble & Schlemeier, headed by William Gamble and Jorgen Schlemeier.
All of those contributions came one day after Gamble & Schlemeier signed the Missouri Health Care Association as a client. One of the major skills of the lobbying firm over the years has been its ability to deliver large number of bundled contributions for its biggest clients through the use of its apparent minor clients.
Two months after receiving more than $3,000 in contributions that can reasonably be connected to the nursing home industry, Bryan Stevenson, behind closed doors, made a considered, though unsuccessful, effort to gut nursing home reform.
Fortunately, Stevenson's attempt to gut much-needed legislation was unsuccessful, but as long as the nursing home industry continues to pour money into lobbying legislators and continues to pour big bucks into political campaigns, it is a sure bet the care and safety of residents of group homes and nursing homes will continue to be compromised.
More information about The Turner Report book, including how to order it, can be found at its website. A book signing is scheduled for 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8, at Hastings Books, Music and Video in Joplin.)