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Florida Nursing Homes Request Immunity From Coronavirus Lawsuits

Jeffrey R. Davis

Florida’s largest advocacy group for long-term care providers is requesting protection from lawsuits for health care professionals amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. The Florida Health Care Association (FHCA) sent a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis requesting “immunity from any liability, civil or criminal” under certain conditions for nursing homes, hospitals, and other facilities. The group is the most recent in a series of health care associations seeking legal immunity during the coronavirus.

Florida has reported 962 cases of COVID-19 throughout the state’s 93 long-term care facilities. A recent USA Today Analysis of federal inspection data found that a majority of nursing homes (75%) in the U.S. have been cited for failing to properly monitor and control infections in the past three years. Nursing homes provide the ‘perfect-storm’ environment for COVID-19, putting residents at higher risk of serious illness with facilities that are not properly equipped to prevent disease and the spread of infection.

Georgia recently issued an executive order that provides civil immunity for health care institutions, medical facilities, and “auxiliary emergency management workers” defined as staff, contractors, and employees. This ‘legal immunity’ and protection from lawsuits protect the powerful and prevents patients and their families from obtaining justice, at a time when they need it most.

Members of the Florida Health Care Association (FHCA) are requesting the same blanket immunity from lawsuits. The association sent a formal letter to the Governor requesting both civil and criminal liability that may result from caring for individuals with COVID-19. They are requesting immunity not only for nursing home workers but all healthcare facilities including nursing homes, hospitals, or assisted living centers, covering employees, volunteers, contractors, and home healthcare workers.

Nursing homes throughout the country are struggling to prevent the spread of COVID-19, many keeping their residents quarantined in their individual rooms. However, not all elderly patients are able to function independently in a closed setting.

For example, a patient suffering from dementia may not be able to keep his or her mask on and can easily fall if left alone. With dementia patients, it can be difficult to tell if they are infected, common symptoms include increased agitation. The constant care and supervision that many of these patients require put them at an even greater risk of contracting the virus from caretakers and staff.

Staff members who are asymptomatic can easily spread the virus to older individuals. Florida does not require nursing home facilities to tell families and residents when an employee or resident has gotten the virus or has died from it.

Concerns have been raised, regarding the healthcare industry’s requested immunity from these lawsuits. Florida recently lessened the requirements for new hires in these facilities. Staffing shortages have caused the state to waive fingerprinting requirements for background checks to get employees hired and working quickly.

The healthcare industry is not the only industry seeking immunity from lawsuits during this time, some of the major cruise lines and their legal teams have been working hard to have the courts allow them to not respond to filings against them.

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