As the numbers of coronavirus cases continue to mount in the homes and centers that take care of Florida’s elderly citizens, a trade association that represents the businesses is asking Gov. Ron DeSantis to grant them far-reaching legal protections.
The Florida Health Care Association last week sent a letter to the governor asking that he provide immunity from any civil or criminal liability “for any harm or damages alleged to have been sustained as a result of an act or omission in the course of arranging for or providing health care services” during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew told nursing homes Thursday that the request is under consideration.
“The governor’s office, their legal team, legal teams from the other state agencies, are currently evaluating what can be done and what is in the best interest in addressing the concerns that you’ve identified,” Mayhew said in a phone call with nursing home providers.
The April 3 letter, signed by FHCA President Emmett Reed, says the proposed blanket immunity should not apply to willful or intentional criminal misconduct or gross negligence. But Reed argued that something that happened because of a staffing or resource shortage should not be considered misconduct or negligence.
The FHCA’s request comes at a critical time, since some facilities have become “hot spots” for the coronavirus.
For example, seven deaths have been reported at one Fort Lauderdale assisted living facility. And on Friday, DeSantis announced that 51 people — including 31 staff members — had tested positive for the coronavirus at a Suwannee County nursing home. DeSantis said the Florida Department of Health had sent a strike team to investigate the facility. The governor also said the source of the spread was an employee who tested positive for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.
The Florida Health Care Association isn’t the only group that has asked for legal protections during the pandemic.
Last month, the Florida Medical Association and the Florida Osteopathic Medical Association sent a letter to DeSantis warning that an executive order halting nonessential elective medical procedures could result in “unintended consequences.” The associations asked the governor to consider limiting legal liability to health care providers or to extend the state’s sovereign-immunity limits to providers who are abiding by the order.
The letter from FHCA also asked that sovereign-immunity limits be applied to health care professionals and health care facilities responding to the outbreak.
“This would provide the necessary liability protection to health care professionals and health care facilities to provide services for any individual in the state during the emergency rule without fear of reprisal for providing care to their patients during this difficult time,” the letter said.
In other news, Mayhew told nursing homes Thursday that her agency was preparing an executive order that would extend by 60 days already-approved nursing home generator variances.
Mayhew said the order would be coming from her office soon.
“While many of you are making progress to have your current generator installed, this obviously created some delays so we are working on an emergency order,” Mayhew said. “You will hear more from us shortly on that.”
Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.