Emmett Reed: AARP’s sideline response is a slap in the face to Florida’s health care heroes
In this Nov. 24 photo, registered nurse Chrissie Burkhiser puts on personal protective equipment as she prepares to treat a COVID-19 patient in the emergency room at Scotland County Hospital in Memphis, Mo. Image via AP.

nurses covid
Lawsuits are no way to guarantee high-quality care.

For the past year, Florida’s long-term caregivers have put their lives at risk, making lifesaving decisions to protect their residents under the most challenging circumstances.

These health care heroes showed up, every day, despite the physical and mental exhaustion the pandemic was inflicting, to do everything they could to protect their residents and lift their spirits.

Day after day, they went room to room to deliver residents’ meals because group dining and activities were banned, and they regularly organized such positive activities as hallway bingo, window visits, and drive-by parades to comfort residents in the darkest times.

It’s been shown there’s no connection between the prevalence of COVID-19 in a nursing center and its quality rating.

What we know now is that outbreaks are tied to community spread, and this virus spreads easily between people who show no symptoms. Every interaction is a risk.

For AARP or any organization to insinuate that these front-line heroes in any way disregarded their residents and families or in any way gave less than their best is bewildering. Where was AARP when our long-term care centers were sewing masks and making gowns out of raincoats and trash bags because vital protective gear was scarce?

Rather than celebrate our caregivers for the innovative solutions they developed to overcome their ongoing challenges — from preserving PPE and meeting workforce shortages to developing isolation wings and setting up safe visitation — AARP simply criticizes these dedicated workers’ response to a crisis they did not create.

AARP was not a part of the crisis-level response forced on caregivers but now finds it easy to sit on the sidelines and second-guess the decisions these health care heroes have made.

There is no doubt trial attorneys will seek to capitalize on this crisis with dubious sue-and-settle tactics, which is why liability protections for health care professionals — including long term caregivers — is critically important.

Our long-term caregivers should be able to do their jobs without worrying about being sued for making decisions to safeguard residents and doing the best they could when even health care experts were unable to agree on proper protocols.

What benefit does it serve to demoralize our caregivers with the threat of lawsuits when they are burned out and stressed the point where many are considering leaving the profession. Now, more than ever, we should be supporting our caregivers and the nursing centers where they work as they focus on recovering from this pandemic.

We appreciate both Sen. Jeff Brandes and Rep. Colleen Burton for sponsoring legislation acknowledging the tremendous sacrifices of our health care heroes over the past year, and we remain committed to working with legislators to ensure that these bills move through the process in the strongest form possible.

Lawsuits are no way to guarantee high-quality care. They simply divert precious resources away from our care centers and send a dangerous message to the health care heroes on the front lines — that the clinical, lifesaving decisions they made to protect residents will be used against them.

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Emmett Reed is CEO/Executive Director of Florida Health Care Association, the state’s largest advocacy organization representing 82% of Florida’s skilled nursing centers and assisted living communities. FHCA provides emergency response, legislative advocacy, continuing education, workforce and quality improvement support to Florida’s long-term care centers and the residents under their care. He can be reached at [email protected].

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