Fifteen states have already given nursing homes explicit protection from most lawsuits arising from the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, except lawsuits involving gross negligence and willful misconduct.
Now, the industry has launched a campaign to convince other states to give nursing homes immunity from civil and criminal liability.
The lobbying effort is being led by the American Health Care Association, which represents nearly all nursing homes in the U.S.
The organization argues that nursing homes should not be held responsible for events beyond their control, such as shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) and lack of staff due to illnesses.
Lawyers argue that the industry does not deserve immunity. Instead, COVID-19 is highlighting systemic issues that have long plagued the industry, such as poor infection-control and chronic staffing shortages.
“This has very little to do with the hard work being done by health care providers,” said Mike Dark, an attorney for California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, “and everything to do with protecting the financial interests of these big operators.”
According to federal records, nearly 62% of nursing homes were cited for infection prevention lapses in 2019. Many of those same facilities are now dealing with deadly outbreaks of coronavirus.
One of the first wrongful death lawsuits was filed by the daughter of a woman who died at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington, an early hotspot of the coronavirus outbreak. According to the lawsuit, the facility’s primary doctor fell ill and had not been on site for weeks.
Five separate wrongful death lawsuits were also filed against Riverbend Post Acute Rehabilitation in Kansas City, Kansas, after at least 30 residents died of coronavirus.
The 15 states that have alrady given emergency immunity measures against lawsuits include Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin.