COVID-19 and Nursing Homes: Will Care Facilities be Held Liable?
Nursing homes and care facilities are ground zero for COVID-19 outbreaks. About one in five of all deaths from the coronavirus have occurred in these facilities. According to Business Insider, at least 7,000 people died from COVID-19 infections at nursing and care homes as of mid-April 2020. The figure represents 20 percent of all coronavirus deaths nationally. The outbreaks may leave hundreds of nursing homes liable if they failed to take precautions to quarantine or protect residents and staff from COVID-19.
Many deaths have been recorded at nursing homes in Virginia. The death toll at the Canterbury Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center near Richmond in Virginia reached 45 in mid-April, exceeding even the 43 at Seattle’s Life Care Center, one of the earliest places in the country to be hit by the virus.
Dr. James Wright, the medical director of Canterbury Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center in Henrico County, told a local TV station 130 people tested positive for coronavirus at the facility. He said a lack of testing and a delay in results contributed to the spread of the virus. ABC 8 News reported Henrico County officials were frustrated after Canterbury did not accept help from them at the outset of the crisis.
The coronavirus has sparked many lawsuits. Employers who fail to implement social distancing, cruise lines, airlines, and public transportation may face lawsuits. Suits have even been filed against Fox News and China.
How are Nursing Homes Seeking to Protect Themselves from COVID-19 Lawsuits?
In the light of thousands of anticipated lawsuits, nursing homes facing COVID-19 lawsuits are seeking immunity. Associations that represent both nonprofit and for-profit nursing homes are pushing for immunity at state and federal levels.
Mark Parkinson, president of the American Health Care Association, an organization that represents more than 14,000 for-profit nursing homes, told NBC News long-term care workers and centers are at the hub of the pandemic response. He called for states to provide liability protection to staff and care providers “during this difficult time without fear of reprisal.”
Many relatives of people who died or fell ill at nursing homes do not agree. NBC reported at least six states specifically granted immunity from COVID-19 lawsuits while six others granted some kind of immunity to health care providers that may be interpreted to include nursing homes.
Governors in New Jersey, New York, Illinois, Arizona, Connecticut, and Michigan issued executive orders that prevent nursing homes and other healthcare facilities from being held civilly liable for deaths or injuries of coronavirus patients in their care. Virginia gives “civil liability immunity” to health care workers during emergencies like the COVID-19 outbreak. Still it is not clear if this provision extends as far as nursing homes and their owners.
Immunity from civil actions alarm patient rights advocates who are worried nursing homes may use it to fail in their duty to protect residents from the coronavirus. NBC spoke to Anna Figueroa whose mother was in a New Jersey nursing home where at least 17 residents died of COVID-19. She said the nursing home failed to tell her about her mother’s coronavirus diagnosis. She demanded her mother be transferred to a hospital where she ended up in intensive care. Figueroa believes immunity from lawsuits allows nursing homes to neglect elderly residents, to avoid taking necessary precautions to protect them from infection and keeps family members in the dark.
Although immunity may protect many nursing homes and other care facilities from lawsuits, these facilities can still be liable for acts of gross negligence which may include a wanton refusal to follow coronavirus safety and isolation measures. Weeks into the COVID-19 crisis in Virginia, some institutions appear to be failing to follow best practices. Workers at the McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Richmond warned in late April they were being denied protective equipment at the federal hospital. At least 29 staff members at the hospital have tested positive for COVID-19. A union representing workers highlighted lax safety and said some workers who cared for coronavirus patients were not wearing masks.
Talk to a Virginia Nursing Home Neglect Lawyer About COVID-19 Lawsuits
Numerous reports suggest America’s nursing homes were woefully unprepared for the COVID-19 pandemic. Worse, some attempted to cover up deaths and illness and did little to isolate or test residents to prevent infections sweeping through their facilities. Many institutions appear to have failed front-line healthcare workers by not providing proper safety equipment. In the next few months, numerous lawsuits for wrongful deaths and injuries are likely to be filed against nursing homes. Please contact our Virginia nursing home neglect lawyers if a loved fell sick due to the actions or inactions of your loved one’s care facility. Call us today for a free consultation.