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COVID-19 is Tearing Through Nursing Homes. Mitch McConnell Wants to Give Their Owners Legal Immunity.

2 194 28
04.08.2020

At least 37 people linked to the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington, have died of COVID-19. Above: A patient at the facility is moved into an ambulance in March.Karen Ducey/Getty

For months, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has upheld an ultimatum about passing new COVID-19 relief legislation this summer: No economic stabilization package will pass the Senate unless it protects businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits. “We need to provide protection, litigation protection, for those who have been on the front lines,” McConnell said during a Fox News interview in April. “We have a red line on liability.”

Last Monday, a bill introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and coauthored by McConnell clarified exactly which front lines Senate Republicans are interested in defending. The proposal, titled the Safe to Work Act, would make it harder for workers and customers to sue companies for negligently exposing them to the coronavirus and raises the bar for patients to sue healthcare providers for coronavirus-related malpractice. It also extends “front line” protections to healthcare executives, including nursing home owners, until 2024.

As negotiations over the coronavirus relief package stall, in part due to McConnell’s red line, experts on elder law and advocates for nursing home residents are alarmed that the Republicans’ proposed immunity shield could destroy what little accountability there is for nursing homes at a time when they’ve become deadly hotspots of COVID-19. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services, more than 40,000 people living in skilled-nursing facilities have died of the coronavirus—more than one quarter of all deaths from the illness. Those deaths represent around 1 in 32 of the country’s 1.3 million nursing home residents, though that is likely an undercount due to incomplete data.

Nursing home industry representatives have argued that a liability shield is necessary to protect providers’ ability to make difficult decisions in an emergency situation. “Subjecting health care workers and facilities to onerous litigation even as they have done their level best to combat a virus about which very little was known when it arrived in the United States would divert important health care resources from hospitals and providers to courtrooms,” the bill reads.

Yet by making liability lawsuits all but impossible, experts warn that corporate owners........

© Mother Jones


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