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COVID-19 Bills Would Protect Florida Nursing Homes From Neglect Lawsuits, Opponents Say

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Two bills being considered by Florida lawmakers would make it harder for people to sue health care providers in COVID-19-related cases. Opponents say nursing homes should be held accountable.

AARP Florida is pressing members of the Legislature to oppose two bills that would grant health care providers some immunity from COVID-19-related lawsuits.

The bills, first introduced by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, would protect health care providers from lawsuits over abuse, neglect and financial exploitation, said Jack McCray, advocacy manager for AARP.

Health care providers covered under the proposed bills include nursing homes, assisted living facilities, hospitals and other facilities defined by the state.

But opponents argue nursing homes and long-term care facilities should not be included in the civil liability protections because the institutions have historically required significant reform in the face of abuse.

“Florida's procedures for negligence actions in nursing homes are already among the most difficult and complicated to maneuver in the country,” McCray said. “They are among the most vulnerable residents in the state of Florida. Negligence or exploitation in any form is unacceptable in a nursing home.”

More than 10,700 residents and staff of long-term care facilities have died in Florida due to complications from COVID-19. That’s 33 percent of Florida’s overall death toll from the virus.

Proponents say the state should shield health care providers from unnecessary lawsuits, citing structural and logistical challenges, such as staffing, that goes beyond the control of the institutions.

But opponents argue the bills (House Bill 7005 and Senate Bill 74) would make it harder for mistreated patients to hold health care providers accountable.

“So far the focus has been on the welfare of the industry and not the welfare of the nursing home residents,” McCray said. “Clearly this legislation is being promoted by the nursing home industry. If nursing homes are doing the right thing, they shouldn’t have to worry about it.“

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Across party lines, Florida voters 50-plus support the right of residents to hold nursing homes accountable for neglect, mistreatment or abuse.

The AARP surveyed 1,000 Florida registered voters over 50 and found that 95% of respondents support the right of residents and their families to hold nursing homes and other long-term care facilities accountable for neglect, mistreatment or abuse. The support was the same across party lines, the survey found.

“So this really should not be a political issue, this should be an issue of quality care,” McCray said.

The AARP supports measures that would lead to quality improvements at long-term care facilities, such as adequate staffing and increased pay for employees. Providing more oversight at these facilities would also improve care, McCray said.

“This year, we have encouraged the legislature that this is an opportunity to really take a look and to develop a blueprint for the future of long-term care in Florida — one that's going to bring long-term care out of the shadows into the sunshine,” McCray said. “There are countless things that can be done and that's where the focus ought to be, not on civil liability immunity.”

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