Nursing Homes Seek Immunity from Lawsuits Over Coronavirus Deaths

With prompting from the nursing home industry, at least six states have passed regulations granting immunity to facilities facing nursing home neglect lawsuits related to COVID-19 infections, even as evidence suggests many of the hardest hit facilities have been plagued with problems and failures reacting to the pandemic.

Reports indicate nearly 12,000 coronavirus-related deaths have been tied to nursing home facilities nationwide, which has resulted in a growing number of lawsuits. However, Massachusetts and New York have put laws in place that grant nursing homes immunity from COVID-19 related lawsuits. Similarly, Governors in Connecticut, Georgia, Michigan and New Jersey have also issued executive orders doing the same.

Other states, including Arizona, Illinois, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Kentucky and Virginia all have laws or executive orders protecting health care providers from litigation, which many interpret to include nursing homes, according to a report by NBC News, which indicates nursing home industry lobbyists have been pushing for these measures nationwide.

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The immunity comes as evidence continues to suggest many COVID-19 deaths could have been avoided facilities had followed basic health care standards, according to a special report by ProPublica published on April 24.

The first known U.S. COVID-19 cases were detected at the Life Care Center nursing home in Washington state, which has seen at least 129 coronavirus cases and at least 37 related deaths.

Federal investigators have identified multiple problems with nursing home neglect at Life Care, indicating that the facility placed residents in “imminent danger.”

Similar accusations are being leveled certain nursing homes nationwide, with some of the hardest hit facilities also being those that have been plagued by problems with poor inspection results and understaffing.

Despite the protections granted by New York, or possibly because of them, Attorney General Letitia James announced that her state is now launching a nursing home coronavirus hotline, which is designed to protect nursing home residents.

“While our Medicaid Fraud Control Unit continues to investigate allegations of abuse and neglect in the system, we launched a hotline where residents, families, or members of the public can share complaints about nursing homes that have not provided required communications with families about COVID-19 diagnoses or fatalities,” she said in an April 23 statement. “The hotline will also accept complaints about nursing home abuse and neglect, including failure to follow rules to keep residents safe.”

Earlier this month, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services urged nursing homes to use separate staff and separate sections of their facilities specifically for COVID-19 patients to help protect other residents and staff from falling ill.

Currently, there are more than a million reported cases of coronavirus infection reported across the U.S., as well as nearly 57,000 deaths.

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