The Dangers of Granting Immunity to Nursing Homes During COVID-19

Tittle Law Firm

Ohio Nursing Home Guide

It is unknown how many of our vulnerable elderly fall victim to neglect or abuse each year since such actions are easily hidden from view and underreported. In fact, according to the National Center for Elder Abuse (NCEA), 84 percent of abusive situations involving older adults go unreported or unrecognized.

    The elderly population is the most susceptible to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the United States, ten thousand people residing in nursing homes have died from COVID-19, and some estimates say a quarter of all infections in this country have some link to nursing homes—whether it’s visitors or health care workers in these long-term care facilities. Here in Ohio, an astounding 41 percent of all deaths have occurred in nursing homes—and now, the nursing homes want immunity from lawsuits.

    According to NPR, “fearing a flood of lawsuits, nursing homes and other health care facilities have been seeking, and gaining, temporary immunity from potential civil suits in several states across the country.” The nursing homes have argued that the COVID-19 pandemic is “unprecedented,” and therefore they shouldn’t be held legally accountable for illness and death in such extraordinary circumstances.

    But across the country, nursing homes have been accused of mishandling Coronavirus outbreaks that could have been prevented, or at least mitigated with better protocol.

    One of the first major outbreaks in the United States occurred at an assisted living facility called the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington. After a visitor infected with the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, visited the Life Care Center, the virus spread undetected to residents and health care workers. A few weeks later, thirty-five people connected to the facility were dead—twelve percent of all patients and staff at the Life Care Center. The situation was so devastating that it’s been dubbed the Kirkland Disaster.

    Afterward, investigators found the Life Care Center had made serious mistakes in handling coronavirus. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released a detailed report that found the Life Care Center in Kirkland committed serious infractions. When inspecting this Kirkland nursing home, the CMS and the Washington Department of Social & Health Services found three “Immediate Jeopardy” situations, which are circumstances where a patient’s safety is placed in imminent danger.

    While it might be the most well-known case of a nursing home mishandling coronavirus, the Life Care Center is far from an anomaly. Long before the pandemic, one-third of nursing homes were found to be negligent, with an estimated 9,000 cases of neglect and abuse nationwide, according to a review by the Special Investigations Division of the House Government Reform Committee.

    Given this knowledge, advocates for nursing home residents are opposing efforts to grant immunity during the pandemic. Long-term care facilities should be held accountable if they failed to take proper precautions to protect vulnerable elderly residents, they say.

    “Providing blanket immunity to nursing homes for any kind of substandard care, abuse, or neglect is an extremely poor and dangerous idea anytime, and particularly so in regard to COVID-19,” Richard Mollot, executive director of the Long Term Care Community Coalition, told NPR. “[The nursing homes are getting] total carte blanche to do as much or as little or whatever they want to do. For the most part, it’ll be as little. And there’ll be no repercussions for even significant abject neglect.”

    In six states—Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey and New York—governors and state legislatures have already granted immunity to nursing homes. This means the facilities cannot be sued for wrongful death or negligence if it involves coronavirus.

    However, nursing homes in the state of Ohio have not been granted legal immunity. If you are worried about a loved one who resides in a nursing home, or you simply oppose granting immunity on principle, the best action to take is to contact your state representative or state senator. These elected officials are the voice of Ohio residents. If you believe Ohio should be focused on protecting our most vulnerable seniors, rather than protecting long-term care facilities from legal responsibility, make your voice heard.

    Also, if your loved one has suffered abuse or neglect at a nursing home, you may have legal options for seeking justice. The attorneys at Tittle & Perlmuter have extensive experience with nursing home abuse cases, and we are here to help. We can review the details of the case and help you decide your best legal options. We will guide you through the arduous process of filing a claim and seeking damages for your loved one’s suffering.

    Pandemic aside, nursing homes are supposed to be a place of care and refuge for our elderly. No facility should be immune from legal responsibility for neglecting or mistreating the most vulnerable among us.

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