Colorado nursing homes seeking lawsuit protection

Coronavirus

DENVER (KDVR) — Chuck Callaway, 81, went into a nursing home to be treated for a spinal infection but ended up catching COVID-19.

“I found out my dad was in isolation by a phone call with him,” said Dwayne Callaway, Chuck’s son.

The younger Callaway isn’t convinced the nursing home did everything right to protect his dad from infection.

“He’s real down in the dumps right now, he’s not himself. He’s tired of being there,” Dwayne said.

But if the Callaways later decide it’s worth suing, the option might not exist.

Now, the Problem Solvers have learned the Colorado Health Care Association (CHCA) and Center for Assisted Living wants state lawmakers to pass liability protection to protect nursing homes from COVID-19 lawsuits.

“We think it’s likely we’ll see a series of frivolous lawsuits aimed at people trying their best during this crisis,” said Doug Farmer, the president and CEO of CHCA.

Nursing home deaths account for more than half of the Colorado’s 1,009 COVID-19 fatalities as of Tuesday afternoon.

Farmer said his organization isn’t out to protect bad actors who may be guilty of willful misconduct but insists nursing homes need at least limited civil liability to protect the industry.

“Even the cost of just having to fight a frivolous lawsuit is more than most nursing homes can bear,” he said.

But civil rights attorney Anna Holland-Edwards said additional protections aren’t needed.

“The truth is, nursing homes have a lot of protections in this state already,” she said.

Holland-Edwards has sued nursing homes for inadequate care before and said the industry doesn’t need a pass over COVID-19.

“A lot of the problems we’re seeing with COVID come from the inadequate staffing and the inadequate infection protocols that are in place,” she said.

But Farmer said protocols have changed during the epidemic and it’s hard to blame nursing homes for a lack for testing and personal protection equipment that even hospitals lacked.

“We’re looking to protect those who are good Samaritans, who are putting themselves at risk to try and save and protect others,” he said.

However, Holland-Edwards wonders if liability protection is less about protecting well-intentioned nurses and more about helping big nursing home chains.

“I am concerned that patients’ rights are really only able to be vindicated often through lawsuits and if we take that away, what’s the check going to be on whether those profit margins are more important than protecting people?” asked Holland-Edwards.

Farmer told the Problem Solvers he’s talking to Colorado lawmakers about passing a measure that would provide limited civil liability protections retroactive to March 10, when Gov. Jared Polis declared a public health emergency for the state of Colorado and extend until the epidemic is over.

Colorado lawmakers are expected to reconvene on May 18.

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