KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A nursing home advocacy group has asked Missouri Gov. Mike Parson to protect health care providers from civil lawsuits.
On April 6, Leading Age Missouri sent a letter to Parson that, in part, asked the state to "shield health care providers (including nursing homes, assisted living facilities, home health and hospice) from civil liability arising out of the [coronavirus] pandemic – except for provider gross negligence or willful or wanton conduct – consistent with immunity granted MO healthcare providers in other contexts."
Residents of long-term care facilities account for thousands of COVID-19 related deaths.
As of Monday night, 30 residents at Riverbend Post Acute Care Rehabilitation in Kansas City, Kansas, had died from the virus. The outbreak, according to Riverbend officials, is believed to have started from an employee who reported to work while displaying symptoms and later tested positive for COVID-19.
At least six lawsuits have been filed against the facility.
Bill Bates, chief information officer with Leading Age Missouri, wouldn't comment on the situation at Riverbend. However, Bates said health care providers should not have to worry about being sued when providing care during an evolving pandemic.
"Quite candidly, we just don't think they should be worried about being second guessed or be worried about wrong doing," Bates said. "We think they should be focused on doing right."
Governors in at least 11 other states have issued executive orders granting some level of immunity to health care providers during the pandemic.
Richard Mollot, executive director of The Long Term Care Community Coalition, disagrees with the orders.
"We don't think nursing homes should be granted immunity from lawsuits," Mollot said. "They essentially absolve the facility of any accountability."
As many long-term care facilities are in lockdown mode, families are unable to check on their loved ones. Inspections also are on hold. Mollott said being able to hold health care facilities accountable is critical.
"It worries me significantly that, without any accountability and in the absence right now of pretty much all monitoring, that the floor could fall through on residents," Mollott said. "We've always supported the right of residents, and most often it's families because the resident has died, to be able to sue the nursing home, to hold the nursing home accountable."
While Bates couldn't give a specific example where a family would have the right to sue, he said nursing homes in Missouri would not have total immunity from civil lawsuits.
"It would be narrow with respect to acts and omissions out of the pandemic, from the time it started until the time it ends," Bates said. "We're simply trying to raise the bar a little bit on lawsuits that can be brought out of this extraordinary circumstance we're in."
Mollot argued that the standards shouldn't be changed because the law already provides protections for defendants.
"When a facility is sued, under any circumstance, which would apply to here as well, if they showed that they provided appropriate care under the circumstances, that suit is dismissed, " Mollot said.
However, Bates said many nursing homes can't afford the costs that come with fighting a lawsuit.
"Lots of those nursing homes are going to fail and go out of business if they have to defend lawsuits for 10 years as a result of this pandemic," Bates said.