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Should Nursing Homes Be Protected From Responsibility Of COVID-19 Deaths?

 A resident leaves the Ida Culver House retirement community on March 10, 2020 in north Seattle, Washington.
A resident leaves the Ida Culver House retirement community on March 10, 2020 in north Seattle, Washington.
John Moore/Getty Images

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As the coronavirus crisis continues, the healthcare industry is lobbying Governor Gavin Newsom to sign an order that would protect doctors, hospitals, nursing homes and senior care facilities from lawsuits.

The Los Angeles Times reports that other governors across the U.S. have signed similar orders and that Newsom likely will issue some sort of liability protection for the healthcare industry. However, families whose loved ones who have died from COVID-19 in nursing homes and advocates for nursing home reform are opposed. 

Nursing homes and long-term care facilities have come under increased scrutiny since the coronavirus outbreak began. In L.A. County, more than a third of the people who’ve died of COVID-19 (38% as of Tuesday) had been living in institutional facilities, which include nursing homes, treatment centers and jails. “The majority of [victims] resided in our skilled nursing facilities,” L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. While advocates for seniors say many of those deaths were due to poor preparation and decision-making on the part of nursing homes, others say outbreaks are simply more likely to occur at a facility where there are older people with compromised immune systems living in close proximity to one another.

As hospitals and nursing homes begin to deal with more coronavirus cases, and have to make some difficult decisions about how to administer care with limited resources, should they receive legal immunity?

We requested interviews with the California Assisted Living Association, the California Association for Health Facilities and the California Medical Association, but they declined to participate. The presidents of those organizations all signed an April 9th letter to Governor Gavin Newsom, asking him to sign an order that would protect the healthcare provider industry from lawsuits and prosecutions. 

We also requested interviews with the California Hospital Association and the advocacy organization LeadingAge, who also signed the letter, but didn’t hear back before air time.


Maura Dolan, legal affairs writer for the Los Angeles Times based in San Francisco whose latest story looks at this issue; she tweets @mauradolan

Harry Nelson, founder and managing partner of Nelson Hardiman, the largest healthcare specialty law firm in Los Angeles, he’s the author of “From ObamaCare To TrumpCare: Why You Should Care,” (RX4 Group, 2017) and “The United States of Opioids A Prescription For Liberating A Nation in Pain,” (Advantage Media Group, 2019)