On Monday, AARP urged lawmakers to derail a bill that would extend COVID-19 liability protections to nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
In a statement, AARP State Director Jeff Johnson spoke against Sen. Jeff Brandes’ SB 74. Johnson warned the proposal would erode residents’ rights and allow nursing homes to operate with impunity.
“The death toll from COVID-19 in our nursing homes is a national disgrace,” Johnson said. “More than 9,000 Florida long-term care residents have already died — alone and afraid, without family by their sides. In numerous cases, facilities may have contributed to those deaths and other harms by their lack of care or abuse.”
SB 74 seeks to raise the bar for plaintiffs who file COVID-19 related lawsuits against health care providers.
Under the proposal, a plaintiff would need to prove a provider acted with gross negligence instead of simple negligence.
The proposal would also up evidentiary standards from “greater weight of the evidence” to “clear and convincing evidence.”
Johnson contended that “shameful atrocities” are already documented, particularly within Brandes’ district.
Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, represents SD 24.
“Let’s be clear: stripping away the rights of older Floridians and their families is careless and irresponsible,” Johnson continued. “Long-term care facilities must be accountable when their wrongdoing threatens the health — and lives — of residents and staff. Especially when isolated residents are vulnerable and often unable to advocate for themselves.”
The Republican-controlled Legislature has deemed COVID-19 liability protections a legislative priority.
SB 74 proponents contend predatory lawsuits are a looming threat against Florida’s health care community.
They note that health care workers navigated the pandemic’s early stages with conflicting health guidance and limited supplies.
The bill includes protections from claims if “supplies, materials, equipment, or personnel necessary to comply with the applicable government-issued health standards or guidance at issue were not readily available or were not available at a reasonable cost.”
Brandes and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis stressed the need for SB 74 at a Tallahassee-based news conference last week.
“We can’t allow sue-and-settle tactics to open the floodgates for attorneys to go after businesses, health care, and long-term care facilities [which] are desperately providing the care needed for our seniors,” Brandes said. “We must protect the good actors within our health care communities who are doing everything they can to keep our patients and employees safe.”
While it is unclear how many COVID-19 related lawsuits exist, a Florida Chamber poll suggests Floridians support COVID-19 liability protections.
According to the poll, 74% of likely voters said they support business protections, and 78% favor protections for doctors, hospitals and nursing homes.
The Florida Legislature is already fast-tracking a bill, SB 72, that offers protections to businesses, churches, and schools.
Meanwhile, the House Health & Human Services Committee proposed a committee bill on Friday that also offers COVID-19 liability protections for health care entities. Sen. Colleen Burton chairs the House Health & Human Services Committee.
The 2021 Legislative Session begins March 2.