AARP, Democrats, clash with FHA, FHCA and others on COVID-19 liability shield

A bill that would give a liability shield to health care providers will be discussed by the Florida Senate Health Policy committee this week. Some Democrats, health care workers and other groups such as the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) have condemned the bill.

Senator Jeff Brandes filed SB 74 on Feb. 5. The bill was an extension to SB 72, which he filed in January. The original bill initially included medical providers, though it was amended to remove them in order to fast track the bill.

Senator Brandes’ bill would provide protection from COVID-19 related lawsuits for all medical providers who make an effort to meet government safety guidelines. It includes long-term care facilities, hospitals, medical centers and other facilities The bill would also create a one year statute of limitations for COVID-19 lawsuits against providers.  

 

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Prior to arriving in the Health Policy Committee, the bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it was passed by a 6-4 vote last week. Groups like the Florida Hospital Association (FHA) and Florida Health Care Association (FHCA) also support the bill.

The AARP opposes the bill, citing the large number of COVID-19 deaths that have taken place in nursing homes across the country. Florida eclipsed 10,000 nursing home residents and staff COVID-19 deaths last week.

The state director of AARP Jeff Johnson explained the situation is a statement:

“The death toll from COVID-19 in our nursing homes is a national disgrace. More than 9,000 Florida long-term care residents have already died — alone and afraid, without family by their sides. In numerous cases, facilities may have contributed to those deaths and other harms by their lack of care or abuse.”

Emmett Reed, executive director of FHCA, responded to the AARP in an opinion piece published by Florida Politics:

“Where was AARP when our long-term care centers were sewing masks and making gowns out of raincoats and trash bags because vital protective gear was scarce? Rather than celebrate our caregivers for the innovative solutions they developed to overcome their ongoing challenges — from preserving PPE and meeting workforce shortages to developing isolation wings and setting up safe visitation — AARP simply criticizes these dedicated workers’ response to a crisis they did not create. AARP was not a part of the crisis-level response forced on caregivers, but now finds it easy to sit on the sidelines and second-guess the decisions these health care heroes have made.”

Some Senate Democrats fear that liability protections will protect health care providers from facing consequences for potential negligence.

Senator Tina Polsky, a Democratic who represents Boca Raton, said:

“We expect people to be at their highest standard, and if we take away the possibility of them being called out on negligent action, then what’s to stop them?”

If the bill passes, Florida would join at least 17 other states that have instituted a COVID-19 liability shield. A federal liability shield was supported by Republicans in January, though House Democrats opposed including it in the final relief bill.