Nursing homes across the United States are facing increasing scrutiny as the number of resident deaths due to the coronavirus COVID-19 increases. Right now, there are at least 20,000 reports of deaths in nursing homes. Families are considering their options for protecting their loved ones, including initiating coronavirus lawsuits. Nursing homes are also considering their options, but from a much different standpoint.
According to new reports, nursing homes across the U.S. are looking for ways to protect themselves from civil lawsuits or criminal prosecution related to coronavirus. Nursing homes are concerned about a possible “flood of lawsuits” from family members. The industry is now making sweeping efforts to get state support for emergency protection shielding them from inadequate care claims. But could such immunity also shield facilities from accountability for nursing home abuse?
Nursing Homes Seek Protection from Coronavirus Lawsuits
At least 15 states have already enacted governors’ orders or new laws that offer nursing homes some level of protection against lawsuits. In New York, a proposed measure would offer nursing homes specific protection from civil lawsuits and criminal prosecution in coronavirus-related claims. New York leads the nation in the number of coronavirus cases and deaths in nursing homes.
Many other states are arguing in favor of similar protections for nursing homes. The nursing home industry’s argument is this:
“This was an unprecedented crisis and nursing homes should not be liable for events beyond their control, such as shortages of protective equipment and testing, shifting directives from authorities, and sicknesses that have decimated staffs.”
While this is certainly a reasonable consideration, advocates for nursing home residents contend that everything happening inside nursing homes right now cannot be blamed on coronavirus. There cannot be a general immunity from all sorts of possible nursing home abuse or neglect simply because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Is Immunity from Coronavirus Lawsuits Misguided?
Patient advocates, lawyers and watchdog consumer groups all argue that giving nursing homes immunity from coronavirus lawsuits is a misguided decision. Yes, this is an unprecedented situation, but it is a situation that has laid bare chronic industry problems that many facilities have struggled with for years. It also comes at a time when loved ones cannot visit residents, and routine inspections are not happening. There is really no way to tell what is really happening inside facilities.
Problems like inadequate staffing and poor infection control measures are closely monitored and regulated, but right now, oversight is lacking. These are issues made all-too-apparent by the coronavirus outbreak. Advocates argue that legal liability is the “last safety net to keep facilities accountable.” Adding immunity for nursing homes could make it harder for families to proceed with even gross or willful negligence lawsuits.
Toby Edelman from the Center for Medicare Advocacy says,
“Everything can’t be blamed on COVID-19. Other things can happen that are terrible. Just to say we’re in this pandemic so anything goes, that seems too far.”
Patient advocates also argue that the nursing home industry is taking advantage of the opportunity to protect their bottom line by giving facilities immunity. For-profit companies operate around 70 percent of the nursing homes in the U.S. Advocates say that coronavirus is giving these facilities the perfect opportunity to gain immunity that they have always wanted. One patient advocate says,
“This has very little to do with the hard work being done by health care providers, and everything to do with protecting the financial interests of these big operators.”
Nursing Homes Should be Accountable During Coronavirus
Giving nursing homes immunity from lawsuits could potentially shield them from being held accountable for negligence. This includes negligence related to the general standards of care, as well as negligence related to management of coronavirus. Lawyers advocating for nursing home residents say that nursing homes should be held accountable for:
- Not following guidelines to screen workers
- Not restricting visitation or cancelling group activities
- Failing to inform residents and family members of an outbreak
- Disregarding test results or failing to properly report positive results
Stella Kazantzas’ husband died in a nursing home owned by the same company that owns the Seattle facility where the first coronavirus outbreak occurred. She says that taking away the ability of families to sue essentially means that “anything goes.” She believes that facilities did not act quickly to prevent outbreaks and deaths in nursing homes. Following the first outbreaks, facilities across the U.S. did not take extreme and sensible measures to protect residents.
Current Status of Coronavirus in Nursing Homes
The federal government is not reporting exactly how the coronavirus is impacting the nursing home industry. State health departments and other organizations, however, are routinely updating the number of cases and deaths. Based on this information, the Associated Press (AP) has tallied its own estimate. Currently, The AP estimates at least 20,058 deaths in nursing homes across the U.S.
Getting Help with Coronavirus Nursing Home Concerns
If you are concerned about a loved one in a nursing home, take a look at our coronavirus resources page. If you have general questions about nursing home abuse or neglect, or the legal rights of nursing home residents, you can contact MedMalFirm.com and speak with one of our attorneys. You can call us at 877-887-4850 or complete our online contact form.