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Nursing homes want immunity from coronavirus-related lawsuits

hospice careCOVID-19 has hit nursing homes especially hard, with the death toll reaching nearly 12,000 as of the last week of April.

Now the nursing home industry is seeking immunity from lawsuits that may be filed against the owners and employees of the 15,600 nursing homes throughout the nation. NBC reports that at least six states have provided this immunity, and six more have granted some form of immunity to health care providers, which could be interpreted to include nursing homes.

“Long-term care workers and centers are on the frontline of this pandemic response, and it is critical that states provide the necessary liability protection staff and providers need to provide care during this difficult time without fear of reprisal,” said Mark Parkinson, President of the American Health Care Association, which represents more than 14,000 for-profit nursing homes.

Some patient advocates worry that nursing homes accused of extreme neglect are trying to avoid liability. However, industry executives say cases of extreme neglect could still be pursued in court.

Heidi Li Feldman, an expert on tort law at Georgetown University Law Center, told NBC that a nursing home could be liable for an egregious business decision, such as lying to families about coronavirus cases. Such an action would be considered a business decision and probably would not be covered under a health care shield during a pandemic.

Paul Slager, president of the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association, disagrees with the move. Slager has litigated many medical malpractice cases, including lawsuits filed against nursing homes.

“I think that blanket immunity, like the type that is being sought by these nursing homes, is not safe,” Slager told NBC News. “It doesn’t give any incentive to avoid situations like we see in New Jersey, where the bodies are piling up.”

Do you think nursing homes should be protected from coronavirus-related lawsuits? Share your thoughts with Voices for Affordable Health.