15 Finds Out: Should nursing homes be granted legal immunity?

15 Finds Out

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – There is no question that long-term care facilities are a major concern when it comes to the spread of the novel coronavirus. That is why many people are calling on state and local health agencies to report the number of confirmed cases at each facility.  

At the same time, nursing homes across the United States are asking for immunity from lawsuits amid the COVID-19 pandemic. So, what does that mean for nursing homes across the state of Indiana? 

There are opinions on both sides.  

The inconsistency in reporting cases at nursing homes is troubling for some and the lack of transparency has led some families to seek legal action. 

“It’s important from a public health standpoint to know is there a specific nursing home that had ten percent of their population effected? Do they have 90 percent of their population effected?” Said Dr. Nicholas King who is a is a Board-Certified Neurologist and also an attorney at Sweeney Law Firm. 

David Farnbauch is a medical malpractice attorney for Sweeney Law Firm. He said the refusal to provide the public with the number of deaths at nursing homes from COVID-19 and the location is outrageous. Farnbauch has had several inquiries from families who are interested in filing lawsuits against nursing homes.  

“Families that have lost loved ones as a result of COVID-19 in nursing homes and they’ve inquired about whether our office would be interested in investigating and prosecuting a COVID-19 case,” he said. 

Because family members cannot visit loved ones during this time, they cannot assess what kind of care they are receiving, Farnbauch said.  

“The family visiting and checking on the care given to residents… that’s not oversight that’s happening right now,” said Farnbauch. 

Zach Cattell, of the Indiana Health Care Association, said reporting the number of COVID-19 cases at each facility is unusual. 

“Even general and non-identifiable information you wouldn’t normally broadcast the incidents of someone obtaining a disease to the entire facility,” said Cattell. 

Nursing homes in several states have asked governors to sign executive orders which would grant legal immunity during the COVID-19 pandemic. That includes Illinois and Michigan. Farnbauch expects that will happen in Indiana, too.   

“I think most states are going to enact legislation giving facilities immunity for treatment related to COVID-19,” he said.  

Indiana State officials have put out guidance, however there has been no waiver or immunity for a long-term care facility.  

During Governor Eric Holcomb’S daily press briefing 15 Finds Out Investigator Angelica Robinson asked if that’s something the state would consider.  

“Although we still do our regulatory function, we still use that workforce for partnership and it’s much more about going into the facilities and helping them respond to outbreaks as they occur,” said Dr. Dan Rusyniak of The Indiana Family and Social Services Administration. “But we have not removed all liabilities from them.”  

Experts said it would be difficult to make a medical malpractice claim out of a COVID- 19 case given the unique situation of the health crisis.  

“Providers are being asked to do things that are different than the law previously said,” said Zach Cattell of the Indiana Health Care Association. “There have been many waivers from existing laws that nursing homes and other providers are providing care underneath.”  

Cattell said it is important to trust health care providers during this time. 

“Trust in these nurses trust in these health care professionals to do the right thing is paramount,” said Cattell. “We hope that individuals will give everybody that understanding of how much caring is going on within our building.” 

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