Nursing homes seek shelter from lawsuits

nursing homes
"You will hear more from us shortly on that."

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.

Christine Jordan Sexton

Tallahassee-based health care reporter who focuses on health care policy and the politics behind it. Medicaid, health insurance, workers’ compensation, and business and professional regulation are just a few of the things that keep me busy.


  • Ward Posey

    April 13, 2020 at 10:03 am

    As a former ombudsman, I have a divided opinion on this. Their are some Attorneys who will create incidents resulting in frivolous lawsuits vs. the better facilities, that is a given. However, as one who spent a lot of time inspecting various facilities in SW Florida and handling complaints of residents and their families, I feel cutting these bare bones facilities some slack is wrong. Under Gov. “Ricky” Scott the ombudsmen program was decimated and gutted when he put a nursing home lobbyist in charge and kowtowed to his corrupt buddies. Most of us quit at that time as we did not sign on to represent corrupt absentee facility owners. No they are going to need stronger oversight on some of these sleeze ball operations like the one in Hollywood Fl. that had failed to install proper generators prior to a hurricane. These types of facilities do not care about their residents only the pocket book of the owners.

  • BlueHeron

    April 13, 2020 at 8:25 pm

    I apologize in advance for the length of my post. I must confess that this topic never comes to mind except in times of crisis such as a hurricane. I will never forget the horror in Hollywood and in other facilities. I also recall clearly that some common sense changes such as generators was going to happen. If memory serves, Gov Scott led us to believe that he cared and would make things right. But the lobbyists and other interest groups jump right in and apparently nothing changed? Now these folks are trying to cover themselves should something happen to any of our elders.
    I really appreciate Ward Posey’s comments as it does serve to provide me with some education.
    As I write this now, I have real skin in the game. A family member now residing in a long-term care facility. I searched for 2 weeks straight and was horrified by what I saw. I was asking questions that many of them were uncomfortable answering. Red flags everywhere. Some I did only a drive-by. I am known by family and friends for taking things too far sometimes but this was one time where it was necessary for me to be a forceful advocate and look under as many rocks as I could find. I went online to Medicare/Medicaid into the nursing home section where I found data with regard to inspections of each facility by county. Confirmed what I found at the facilities I visited. I studied the data and found two facilities who received 5 stars in terms of quality of care and every other possible metric with the last inspection being reasonably recent. A tour of both places revealed that I had struck gold. These 2 facilities were seemingly proud of their success and answered every question I had,much of it verifiable. Bottom line, I was able get my loved one into one of the facilities. While nothing can be guaranteed during this crisis and I am worried all of the time, I cannot imagine seeing my loved one anywhere else.
    It was a painful and exhaustive process for me. Why does it have to be this hard? Does everyone need a no bs and tenacious advocate like I had to be? They do. Because the State and industry care only about money and they are more than ok being SLUM LORDS to our most precious and delicate citizens. As long as there is little regulation, little oversight and a great bottom line, what’s a couple hundred dead old people? Collateral damage, I guess.
    There is no expectation that DeSantis will behave any differently. This is obscene and immoral.

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