No one is immune to the coronavirus.
Except, it appears, Massachusetts nursing home owners.
With just a few exceptions, the owners of long-term care facilities in Massachusetts are exempt from legal liability in coronavirus cases, thanks to a bill that’s little more than a month old.
On April 8, Gov. Charlie Baker filed legislation that would make nursing homes in the Bay State legally immune for coronavirus deaths in nearly all cases.
The law was necessary, Baker said, because nursing homes are faced with an unprecedented health care challenge and likely would not survive without it.
The Legislature, which normally takes years to craft any law of substance, swiftly approved the measure, and Baker signed it into law on April 17.
With the pandemic causing death, economic collapse and an upending of daily life, it’s easy to see why a bill involving legal immunity escaped the public’s attention.
But now, relatives and friends of coronavrius nursing home victims have little recourse if they try to seek some accountability for their loved ones’ death.
Greg Vanden-Eykel, a medical malpractice lawyer who represents nursing homes, told The Boston Globe the new law provides “potential protection,” not blanket immunity.
For example, it does not apply to conduct that is found to constitute gross negligence, recklessness, intentional harm or discrimination.
Legal protection is needed, he said, because “in these unprecedented times, these health care providers are treating patients at levels no one could ever see.
For policy purposes, it’s best to encourage the focus on what’s the best treatment, not on ‘oh my gosh, I made a mistake, now I might get sued.’”
William D. Kickham, a lawyer who represents plaintiffs in neglect and abuse cases, told The Globe the legislation is “outrageous and an abandonment of the weak and the voiceless.”
He said one of the worst provisions is the immunity granted if there’s evidence of understaffing.
“To carve out a special interest exemption for liability and expose the weakest and most vulnerable of our citizens to any type of injury is unconscionable,” he told the newspaper.
We have stated it here before and we will say it again: Massachusetts’ nursing homes, and the regulators overseeing them, have failed miserably during the coronavirus pandemic.
More than 3,500 residents of long-term care facilities have died of this scourge in the last two months. That’s more than 60 percent of the state’s coronavirus deaths — double the national average.
Massachusetts takes pride in having among the nation’s best health care facilities, like Mass. General, Brigham & Women’s and Beth Israel Deaconess.
They’re staffed by graduates of such outstanding colleges as Harvard and Boston University.
But what good is that reputation if the state allows such a highly contagious disease to devastate long-term care residents?
Health care experts say a second wave of the pandemic appears inevitable.
If that’s true, the state’s top priority should be in keeping the coronavirus away from its most vulnerable citizens, not in locking down businesses where the chances of infection and death are far less.
Because nursing home residents, unlike the facilities where they live, are certainly not immune to the coronavirus.