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California Nursing Homes want Gov. Newsom to Grant Industry Immunity from Liability Lawsuits

— April 24, 2020

California nursing homes say they can provide ideal care if they aren’t constrained by the fear of coronavirus-related litigation.

California nursing homes are asking Gov. Gavin Newsom to exempt the industry from liability amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

The Los Angeles Times notes that, for the past several weeks, nursing homes have been at the epicenter of the state’s coronavirus outbreak. As the infection continues to spread, numerous civil lawsuits have been filed against nursing homes suspected of negligence. In some cases, too, state authorities have begun criminal prosecutions.

Despite increased pressure bearing down on the industry, California may prove reluctant to move against it: as the L.A. Times reports, hospital beds across the state are in high demand. Nursing homes, then, provide an efficient alternative to intensive care units and emergency rooms.

An IV drip. Image via Piqsels. Public domain.

“It’s unprecedented times that we’re dealing with,” said Cory Kallheim, vice president of Legal Affairs and Social Accountability for LeadingAge, an organization which is representing non-profit nursing homes and assisted living facilities. “So it puts [nursing homes] in a really, really difficult spot. They’re doing the best they can in the difficult circumstances.”

Michael Dark, a staff attorney with California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, told the Times that healthcare professionals are largely in favor of liability exemptions not just for nursing homes, but doctors, hospitals, and other medical professions. Dark explained that the drive for immunity is coming from “the entire healthcare provider industry, which is a powerful lobby in Sacramento.”

Governors in other states have enacted or are actively considering similar provisions. Massachusetts, for instance, is debating a bill that would exempt medical professionals from most malpractice claims related to coronavirus. Proponents of such measures say it’s important that health providers be able to make decisions on their feet without having to second-guess themselves.

“We don’t have an understanding of how this [virus] is spread,” Kallheim said. “We’re getting more information as we move forward each day, each week. And it’s putting a real tax on what our providers are able to do.”

Nevertheless, some Californians have reservations. John Burris, a civil rights attorney representing a family who lost a relative to a coronavirus outbreak in Alameda County, said liability exemptions “[incentivize] bad conduct.”

“It’s shameful,” Burris told the Times.

Similarly, Long Term Care Community Coalition executive director Richard Mollot suggested providers shouldn’t be given a free pass during the pandemic.

“Providing blanket immunity to nursing homes for any kind of substandard care, abuse, or neglect is an extremely poor and dangerous idea anytime, and particular so in regard to COVID-19,” Mollot said. “Nursing homes are themselves more strained, more understaffed than they are on a usual basis.”

And with nursing homes under-staffed, Mollot explained, there’s an ever-greater possibility residents may be negligently infected or abused. Exemptions are essentially a “total carte blanche to do as much or as little as whatever they want to do.”

“For the most part, it’ll be as little,” Mollot said. “And there’ll be no repercussions for even significant abject neglect.”


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