While we are reeling in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder and the demonstrations and unrest that have ensued, we can’t forget that the nation and the world are also still impacted by the coronavirus pandemic that has cost the lives of over 100,000 Americans.
We also shouldn’t forget that while we are distracted, lobbyists use this time to advocate for their industries in hopes that no one will notice the passage of laws that might have otherwise gotten vocal opposition had the people been paying attention.
Covid-19 hit the world hard, and the impacts have been felt across all sectors of life. But one type of facility has faced a frighteningly large crisis during this pandemic — nursing homes and the communities that live and work in them.
A virus that afflicts the elderly in extreme ways, Covid-19 has killed a disproportionate amount of people connected to nursing homes. On May 9, the New York Times reported that one-third of all coronavirus deaths were nursing home residents or workers.
So you may or may not be shocked to find out where the nursing home industry is putting a significant amount of energy and resources.
“The nursing home industry is responding with an unprecedented action of its own: Using its multi-million dollar lobbying machine to secure protections from liability in lawsuits. At least 20 states have swiftly taken action within the last two and a half months to limit the legal exposure of the politically powerful nursing home industry, which risks huge losses if families of coronavirus victims successfully sue facilities hit by the pandemic. Now, the industry is turning its energies to obtaining nationwide protections from Congress in the upcoming coronavirus relief bill.”
How big is the nursing home lobby? You may be surprised.
“The nursing home industry is one of the lobbying world’s quiet powerhouses. The state actions to protect the industry came after it spent tens of millions of dollars in lobbying and other advocacy per year, according to a POLITICO review of state and federal records. At the federal level, the industry has spent more than $4 million on lobbying over the past year, employing more than a dozen full-time lobbyists and drawing on an army of contractors including Brian Ballard, former lobbyist for President Donald Trump, and ex-Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a former Republican National Committee chairman.”
Now, as with all new laws, there is some logic to this. Nursing homes can’t be liable for every elderly person who dies in their facilities, especially when many other healthcare facilities have been hit equally hard. But they can be held liable if they didn’t take appropriate and available protections, or looked after their bottom line instead of for the health and well-being of their clients and employees. So, what kind of protection is the industry seeking? Families utilize nursing homes because they expect specialized care to the sick and elderly, and for these facilities to have emergency plans in place for health care crises. Furthermore, people who work at nursing homes do not expect to put their lives at risk. Are nursing home lobbyists advocating for laws that will take the right to sue away from people who were unreasonably put in danger?
Unfortunately, some of these new laws seem to do just that.
A law recently passed in New York mandates that cases against nursing homes must prove “gross negligence,” an extremely high legal bar to meet. Lobbyists in California are trying to get Gov. Newsom to sign an executive order shielding nursing homes from liability unless claimants can show “clear and convincing evidence of willful misconduct.”
And to make matters worse, nursing home lobbyists successfully pushed for a new law in New York that relaxed record-keeping laws for elder care facilities, which seems like a deregulation specifically targeting the ability to gauge the level of care, negligence, and misconduct that occur in these facilities.
Thus far, at least 20 states have taken action in the past three months to shield nursing homes from liability. The fight on this issue at the federal level has been slower as it has taken a very partisan positioning within Congress, which slows things down.
If this topic is important to you, this would be the time to call your Congress members and Senators to weigh in with your position.