Amidst a wave of lawsuits over COVID-19 deaths against nursing homes all across the country, some facilities are turning to their respective state governments for assistance in court.
USA Today reports that after dozens of such lawsuits have been filed, 38 states have implemented certain legal protections for nursing homes, making it more difficult to sue them over deaths related to the Chinese coronavirus pandemic. Some nursing homes have also been turning to certain federal laws to seek protection against legal action.
In one such case, the Fair Acres Geriatric Center in Lima, Pennsylvania was sued by the family of 63-year-old Christopher Beaty after he died of the coronavirus on June 6th. Beaty was forced to remain with his roommate even after the roommate tested positive for COVID, and they shared their room for an additional 24 hours, exposing Beaty to the virus that eventually killed him.
“I strongly believe that if they would have followed regulatory guidelines to isolate individuals if exhibiting COVID symptoms,” said his son, Christopher Beaty Jr., “this could have been prevented.” The family is suing Fair Acres for not acting quickly enough to remove the infected roommate, which could have saved Beaty’s life.
In response, lawyers for the facility requested that the lawsuit be dismissed, claiming that they were protected by a federal law known as the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act. A federal judge declined their request in August, leading the Fair Acres attorneys to subsequently appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia; that hearing will take place on April 28th.
The Beaty family’s suit is one of many similar cases unfolding across the country. During the pandemic, nursing homes were among the most dangerous places for the spread of the virus, with over 200,000 occupants of nursing homes dying from the coronavirus.
Perhaps the most infamous example came from New York, where then-Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order forcing nursing homes to accept patients who tested positive for COVID. After widespread backlash, he repealed his executive order several months later, and later repealed a previous law that had given certain liability protections to nursing homes. The scandal contributed to his eventual departure from office.
Sam Brooks, a program and policy manager with the National Consumer Voice Program, noted that the dozens of laws passed in various states to issue greater protections to nursing homes will make “a steep hill to climb” for families that try to sue.
“The industry did a really good job about ensuring that it was even steeper for residents and their families,” he continued. “You’re really only going to see very egregious cases.”
But Beaty Jr. voiced his determination to hold his father’s nursing home accountable, echoing the sentiments of many families of COVID victims around the country.
“The system failed us,” the younger Beaty said. “People need to be held accountable to ensure facilities have the types of resources they need to provide safe and efficient care to all residents.”