For weeks, nursing homes have been the epicenter of coronavirus outbreaks and deaths because of ignoring warning; being unprepared; and failing to provide the staff and PPE to protect residents and caregivers.  But the nursing home industry now demands a sweeping order that would shield nursing homes from lawsuits and criminal prosecutions.

 Consumer advocates, senior-care watchdogs and families who have lost loved ones to neglect and abuse during the coronavirus outbreaks in nursing homes are livid that an industry they see as reckless and profit-driven will be bailed out.  Numerous examples of nursing homes making horrible decisions exist.  Many families and advocates contend that the nursing home’s recklessness effectively threw open doors and allowed the coronavirus to infect and kill vulnerable people.  Across the nation, some states have already issued immunity orders for health care workers for criminal behavior including rape, financial exploitation, and abuse.

“It is shameful,” said John Burris, a civil rights lawyer representing a family who lost a loved one in a California nursing home. “It incentivizes bad conduct.”

Toby Edelman, senior policy attorney for the Center for Medicare Advocacy based in Washington, D.C., said skilled nursing facilities are crucial to the health care system. But Edelman said the industry members seem to be taking advantage of the crisis to protect themselves from a problem of their own making.  Edelman has long tracked nursing homes, which she said tend to have past patterns of poor infection control and other violations. She points out that inspectors regularly cite facilities for a common violation — a failure of staff to wash their hands.

Industry watchdogs and elder law experts assert that litigation is an important tool for holding nursing homes accountable and preventing lapses in the future. They also note that no one is keeping an eye on what goes on inside these places. Visitors have generally been barred, and ombudsmen and regulators are no longer entering because of the contagion, advocates said.


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