Lawmakers Consider Providing Immunity for Nursing Homes


A recent Government Accountability Office report found more than 80% of nursing homes were cited for infection prevention failures, including washing hands in between patients, before the pandemic. (Pixabay via NNC)
By 
Eric Galatas
Nebraska News Connection

Lincoln – Advocates for nursing-home residents are pushing back against a proposal to give broad immunity for businesses that may face lawsuits connected with the coronavirus pandemic.

So far, more than 1,000 people living in Nebraska’s long-term care facilities have died of COVID-19.

Nursing-home residents make up just 1% of Nebraska’s population but account for half of the coronavirus deaths.

Todd Stubbendieck, state director for AARP Nebraska, said now is not the time to let nursing homes off the hook for abuse, neglect and even death.

“It’s not right to use COVID as a ‘get out of jail free card’ for those facilities that may have had incidents of neglect or abuse,” Stubbendieck said. “And we should not shut off the rights of these families to be able to access the courts.”

Stubbendieck said he believes the COVID-19 Liability Protection Act, introduced by Sen. Tom Briese, R-Albion, is not necessary because Nebraska already has barriers to prevent frivolous lawsuits.

The bill’s proponents say the law will help the state recover from the economic fallout from COVID-19, and noted the measure has exemptions for incidents of gross negligence or willful misconduct.

The president of the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys is opposed to the measure, The Omaha World-Herald reported, because it would limit access to justice through the courts if people are injured by businesses that do not follow accepted policies and procedures.

Limiting the ability to go to court would “limit justice, and they limit people’s access to the court system,” Andy Sibbernsen said, according to the paper. “If people and businesses are acting reasonably, there’s no reason to be worried about it.”

Stubbendieck contended long-term care facilities are not like other businesses. They are charged with taking care of the state’s most vulnerable residents.

“The vast majority of these facilities are doing the right thing, and want to do the right thing,” Stubbendieck said. “And so, I don’t think that there is a problem with continuing to hold them accountable to do the right thing.”

Stubbendieck added that his group will continue to hold facilities responsible for providing quality care, adding he hopes lawmakers will reject LB 139.

He stressed legal action must remain an option for families, and accountability gives nursing homes a strong incentive to self-correct by addressing problems up front.

 

This article was produced by the Nebraska News Connection, an independent news service that produces statewide stories. It is part of the national Public News Service. Find more at publicnewsservice.org.

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