The COVID-19 virus has caused devastating impacts on long-term care residents and their families. Our loved ones are not only highly susceptible to the virus, but facility lockdowns have left residents highly vulnerable to abuse, neglect, and improper care.  We can attribute this to various factors – low-staffing levels, lack of access to Ombudsman advocates, social isolation – the list goes on. The harsh reality is that nursing home residents are being harmed, and in some cases, even dying due to implications of COVID-19 related policies and procedures.

Special Session and Liability Issues

This reality could soon become even more difficult for residents and their families. On November 5, Governor Parson called all Missouri lawmakers back to Jefferson City for a Special Session to pass a supplemental budget that would distribute federal CARES Act funding. However, some lawmakers are pushing Governor Parson to expand the scope of the Special Session: Missouri House Majority Floor Leader, Rob Vescovo, sent a letter to Governor Parson requesting that the current Special Session be expanded to include COVID liability issues; Senator Cindy O’Laughlin and other members of the Republican and Conservative Caucuses, echoed Vescovo’s request.

Protections raise concerns

The inclusion of COVID-19 liability protections concerns nursing home residents’ health and safety; advocates from across the state have begun raising alarms. COVID-19 liability protections are designed to protect businesses and healthcare workers from legal repercussions of damages or harm resulting from continued operations during the pandemic. The idea is that businesses will reopen (or remain open) without fear of legal responsibility if someone gets infected while on their premises. However, some are hoping to apply this protection to long-term care facilities as well. The consequences of this would be detrimental to residents.

Legal liability is a critical safeguard for nursing home residents because it incentivizes nursing homes to provide quality care and comply with laws and regulations. COVID-19 liability protections, if passed, would remove the right for residents and their families to pursue legal justice for any wrong-doings by the nursing facility even when the wrong-doing was not related to or caused by COVID-19!

What does this mean for residents?

This means that facilities would no longer be held responsible for negligent care or residents’ wrongful death. This lack of responsibility is particularly problematic during the pandemic, as oversight within the facilities is at an all-time low. Due to nursing home lockdowns, residents are deprived of protections by their families, long-term care ombudsmen, and inspection agencies. Judicial recourse is the only remaining avenue for protecting residents and holding nursing homes accountable for substandard care. The suggested COVID-19 immunities essentially legalize inadequate care provision and permit nursing homes to do so without fear of repercussion.

What Can YOU Do?

So, what can we do to prevent this from happening? At VOYCE, we work closely with advocates, stakeholders, and lawmakers from across the state to form an organized opposition and ensure residents remain protected. But we need your help!

Make your voice heard!

Please join us in making your voice heard by reaching out to Governor Parson and your state Representative. We must tell Missouri lawmakers not to strip away long-term care residents’ rights and protections by rejecting COVID-19 liability protection proposals. Missouri must instead focus efforts on ensuring residents are protected from the virus and provided with the high standards of quality care expected of long-term care facilities.

Another way you can help is by sending a message to lawmakers using AARP’s Action Center! If you are unsure of what to say, this prefilled message will help you get started!

As always, we appreciate all your effort in protecting long-term care residents and ensure quality of life for our state’s most vulnerable seniors.

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