Guest Columnist

Leave decisions to juries, not government-imposed caps

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Gavel

I have dedicated my career to caring for and advocating for children. As a 22-year registered nurse, I know just how delicate and priceless life is. I spent the majority of my nursing career taking care of the sickest and most vulnerable children in the pediatric and neonatal intensive care units. I have practiced nursing, and now practice law, in both Iowa and Nebraska.

That’s why I am asking Iowa lawmakers to oppose dangerous legislation that would force a mandatory limit on any medical negligence lawsuit, even if a life altering injury or death happens. Under that limit Iowa families would have a one-size-fits-all, government imposed dollar value cap on their lives, no matter how devastating the injury or egregious the conduct. Iowans trust juries to make the tough decisions about individual legal cases, not politicians.

When hospitals fail to practice good, safe medicine, the results are devastating. Corporate lobbyists at the capitol are trying to convince lawmakers that medical negligence lawsuits are threatening access to health care in rural Iowa. That is not true. They give an example from the Washington County Hospital. The truth about that case will leave you furious.

After repeated breaches of the standard of care, Dr. Lynette Iles is now barred from practicing obstetric medicine. When a Washington, Iowa, mother came in to give birth to her daughter she had no idea about her doctor’s past.

During the birth, Dr. Iles failed to follow safe medical standards. The doctor’s negligence caused the newborn severe brain damage. Tragically, this child will suffer with lifelong physical and neurological consequences because of the negligence of the physician. The family argued their case to a Washington County jury and the jurors, after reviewing all the facts carefully, unanimously delivered much needed accountability.

The decisions of Iowa citizen juries in lawsuits act as a deterrent against unsafe medical care and create accountability. The Iowa Board of Medicine has placed Dr. Iles on probation, in part for what was uncovered as a result of this lawsuit. This lawsuit will result in safer health care for Washington County residents, but it is not a factor in the area’s access to health care struggles.

It is well documented that many rural hospitals and clinics across the Midwest are struggling. Hospital administrators cite shrinking patient populations, coupled with shrinking Medicaid reimbursement income, and a shrinking available workforce as jeopardizing the business model of rural hospitals and clinics. The Washington County Hospital sees only around 130 births each year, which were not enough patients for the maternity unit to stay in business. The hospital CEO said, “With the relatively low birth, we were utilizing a lot of resources that potentially could help a greater number of people within the community.”

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In Nebraska, where I now live, rural access to health care is exponentially worse. Over here, it’s not just maternity units closing, but entire rural hospitals. Yet, for almost 30 years Nebraska has had one of the most radical caps on medical negligence lawsuits in the nation. The truth is, reducing accountability in health care will never create a better health care system.

We cannot let corporate lobbyists force a dollar value cap on the lives of the ones we love. If your baby, grandbaby, niece or nephew suffered life-altering brain damage or died because of a dangerous hospital’s negligence, would you want the legislature to decide the case? Iowans trust juries to decide these cases, not a one-size-fits-all government imposed cap.

Sarah Centineo is a registered nurse and attorney at law living in Bellevue, Nebraska, and practicing in both Nebraska and Iowa.

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