New PA Bill Shields Nursing Homes from Pandemic Lawsuits

PA COVID 19 Bill Senior Justice Law Firm

What You Need To Know about Pennsylvania’s Immunity Law for Nursing Homes due to COVID-19

Legislation Regarding Nursing Home NegligencePennsylvania has shifted its approach on how courts hold nursing homes accountable amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As of December 2020, both the House and Senate of Pennsylvania passed House Bill 1737, which stipulates that some entities—such as schools, hospitals, and nursing homes—would be exempt from lawsuits related to their handling of the pandemic unless intentional harm or gross negligence can be clearly proven. This is deeply problematic, as our Philadelphia nursing home abuse attorneys rely on a general negligence standard to prove our cases for our clients. Raising the standard to intentional harm will only allow an already troubled nursing home system to further go off the rails.

The bill, which passed both branches of the legislature despite dissenting votes from all House Democrats and some moderate Republicans, is now on the desk of Governor Tom Wolf for review. This marks a victory in the process for providers, who have lobbied aggressively to push a bill through the House and Senate that shields long-term care facilities during the public health crisis. The vote surrounding the bill was contentious, passing the House by a narrow margin of 104 to 98 and the Senate  by 29 to 20, one Senator abstaining from the vote.

Initially, the bill that originated in September was drafted to provide liability protection to agritourism businesses. However, due to special interest lobbying, the nursing home expansion was added later. Representative Chris Raab criticized this move as a “back-door action” that protects special interests over individuals.

Does the New PA COVID-19 Bill Shield Long-Term Care Facilities Too Much?

Democrats voicing their concern for the bill have pointed out that oversight and in-person review of facilities has already been lacking since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, and providing further protection from scrutiny may allow providers to compromise on critical aspects of care without repercussion. Pam Walz, a supervising lawyer from Philadelphia, notes that the court is the final opportunity for oversight during the pandemic, and removing this protection leaves facilities free to do essentially as they please with no fear of legal consequences.

President and CEO of Pennsylvania Health Care Association Zach Shamberg noted in an emailed statement that the current situation is ripe for “frivolous lawsuits”, since the COVID emergency has resulted in a shortage of personal protective equipment, tests, critical care materials, and unclear or constantly changing guidance. Shamberg claims that this shortage and uncertainty is no fault of the nursing homes, and so they should be immune from related legal action.

Despite the use of the empty buzzword “frivolous lawsuit”, supporters of House Bill 1737 have put forth no evidence of any meritless cases being filed. Contrarily, there have been numerous confirmed instances of nursing home abuse, neglect and fraud directly relating to COVID-19 funding from the government.

One Republican representative who voted in favor of Bill 1737 explained that the protection offered by the bill would benefit businesses and long-term care facilities so that they can focus on providing the best care possible in good faith without concerning themselves financially or time-wise with lawsuits. Counterarguments assert that such good faith will not be as prevalent as many may hope, and judging from our experience with corporate owned long-term care facilities, we’d agree.

Allowing House Bill 1737 to give Nursing Home Immunity is Dangerous for Residents

Simply put, granting an already questionable nursing home industry full immunity due to COVID-19 gives these facilities a license to kill.

The bill, now under review by Governor Tom Wolf, could mark a significant precedent for loosening liability on nursing homes if it is passed. Should Wolf approve the bill, the protections offered would retroactively apply back to March and remain in effect for the official duration of the emergency. At this time, Governor Wolf has made no comment about his intentions to sign or veto the bill. If vetoed, it may still be passed by an additional vote.

Abuse & Neglect Outside of COVID, Still Exists in Nursing Homes During This Time

There is no doubt COVID-19 is one of the top threats against nursing home residents today.  However, this does not mean there are no other forms of mistreatment occurring inside this facilities during the pandemic.  Even with Coronavirus surging in nursing homes, Senior Justice Law Firm still sees preventable red flag injuries such as bed sores and falls happening inside these long-term care facilities.

If your loved one suffered an injury inside a long term care facility, call Senior Justice Law Firm today at 888-375-9998 for a free consultation.  You can also get in touch with us by utilizing our chat feature on our website.

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