Horror stories: Shielding long term care facilities from lawsuits would protect the bad actors

During COVID-19, families have been unable to enter long term care facilities to help with the care needs and monitor the quality of care being given. And federal and state health departments have redeployed most of their staff to deal with the pandemic. Photo by Getty Images.

As corporate lobbyists descend on Washington and Saint Paul to help bad actors get shielded from lawsuits, here’s a reminder: immunity isn’t needed to protect businesses that have done the right things. Those businesses that have taken the proper steps to protect themselves and the public are already protected by current law. Immunity is really about protecting bad operators that cut corners and don’t follow safety guidelines — that is why it’s so damaging to consumers, most especially residents of long term care facilities.

There are many well run facilities that are doing a great job taking care of the residents in providing quality, compassionate care during this pandemic. But the subpar providers need to be held accountable, especially during this time.

Elder Voice Family Advocates — a volunteer organization of residents and their families fighting for quality care — are adamantly opposed to this effort to shield the long-term care industry from accountability for horrific neglect and abuse that is happening at far too many facilities throughout the state. Calls of concerned family members continue at an alarming rate and with grave overall outcomes.

Like the family reporting the deplorable care that their father received in a metro area facility. He died in June after enduring months of deteriorating care. The facility was paid $9,000 per month. Yet this man did not receive adequate food and water, even as spoiled food was allowed to become moldy in his room. No one helped him shower or cleaned his room or changed his soiled bedding. He had bruises and abrasions and his eyes were matted shut.

In another facility in a rural area, a COVID-19 positive resident was newly admitted to the facility without being quarantined or separated from the other residents. Soon, COVID-19 spread throughout the small facility, resulting in the death of 9 residents.

One resident, who had not been infected, was moved to another facility.  That facility found her in poor health because of the shocking neglect of the previous facility. Her clothing and body — unbathed for over a month — were covered with dried feces. She was malnourished and dehydrated. After two weeks of good care she recovered and is doing well.

The reality is that residents and their families have very few protections available to them. Families have been unable to enter these facilities to help with the care needs and monitor the quality of care being given. The federal and state health departments have redeployed most of their staff to deal with the pandemic, resulting in decreased bandwidth to broadly investigate complaints. Providers offering subpar care are continuing to operate, to the detriment of residents.

A civil claim is one of their only recourses for accountability for harm to residents of long-term care. Taking that way would be unjust. It would go against public policy, constitutional rights and basic human rights.  Blanket immunity from civil claims during the COVID-19 peacetime emergency would be greatly detrimental to those receiving subpar care in long term care facilities — the very battleground of so many unnecessary COVID-19 deaths.

This issue cannot be ignored, while hundreds of our parents, grandparents and other loved ones are needlessly suffering and dying prematurely in deplorable conditions.

Granting immunity to subpar providers would be inhumane, unjust and immoral.

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Kristine Sundberg
Kristine Sundberg

Kristine Sundberg is a founding member and now executive director of Elder Voice Family Advocates. She is also a former corporate executive.

Suzanne M. Scheller
Suzanne M. Scheller

Suzanne M. Scheller is an attorney with a practice specializing in elder abuse and neglect litigation, financial exploitation and other areas of elder law. She is also the founder of Elder Voice Family Advocates and its legal advisor.