Advocates Oppose Nursing Home Industry’s Attempt to Seek Immunity From Elder Abuse Through Backroom Deal with Governor

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April 23rd Update: CANHR has joined Justice In Aging, ACLU California, Bet Tzedek, CPEHN, Western Center on Law & Poverty, Disability Rights Education & Defense Fun, Health Consumer Alliance, Latino Coalition For a Healthier California, Maternal and Child Health Access and the National Health Law Program in a Joint Letter to Governor Newsom opposing blanket immunity for Health Care Providers. You can download and view the letter HERE.

California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform held a press conference via Zoom at 11:30 am on Monday, April 20, 2020 to announce their opposition to a proposed executive order sought by health care providers making them immune from claims arising from even dangerous and reckless conduct in treating patients with COVID-19. CANHR staff were joined by family members of nursing home residents and representatives from other organizations including AARP, Senior and Disability Action and Consumer Attorneys of California.

A recording of that conference is available HERE.

On April 9, 2020, nursing home lobbyists and other health care provider organizations wrote to Governor Newsom pushing for near-complete immunity from administrative, criminal, and civil liability and events that lead up to and occur during the COVID-19 crisis.  If immunity is granted by the Governor, it would strip away the last layer of protection for nursing home residents at a time when their lives are in grave danger and deny them any chance of receiving justice for unconscionable conduct.

Nursing homes have been ground zero for COVID-19.  Countless residents have died during outbreaks in nursing homes with terrible histories of neglect.  Hundreds of California nursing homes have outbreaks that immediately threaten the life of every resident with tragedies unfolding every day.

California has systematically removed virtually every protection nursing home residents have during the pandemic, suspending most residents’ rights, sidelining inspectors and ombudsmen, waiving critical staffing and occupancy requirements, suspending enforcement of its standards and directing manifestly unsafe nursing homes to admit infectious COVID 19 patients.  It even banned all family visitors, leaving residents to suffer and die alone.

The remarkable spread and devastation in these facilities are reflective of decades of poor infection control practices and insufficient staff to meet the needs of the residents.  The decisions which fostered this dereliction were made, not by frontline workers, but owners and management who have routinely placed profits over care.  Broad immunity will indulge these past failures and encourage new ones by removing incentives to engage in critical thinking and to act reasonably for the welfare of residents.

This unprecedented request to shield the best-financed group of healthcare providers in the state from accountability is a blatant play to avoid consequences for the years of decisions and inaction that have enabled the COVID-19 virus to spread virtually unchecked through long term care facilities.

Despite this total removal of the resident protection apparatus, the providers’ nursing homes want more.  Now they want immunity for all decisions and inaction, including the reckless or oppressive abuse and neglect of residents.  

We urge the governor not to accede to this radical demand to legalize reckless and dangerous conduct directed against the most vulnerable population in the state, a group whose vulnerability has only increased as COVID-19 rips through long term care facilities, devastating and killing residents and the frontline workers who care for them.  A grant of immunity would lead to incalculable harm in our long term care facilities as it would remove the only remaining legal impediment to misguided decisions and unreasonable actions.  Immunity would give a pass, not only to the potential reckless decisions that may cost residents’ lives, but the years of poor infection control practices and understaffing that have facilitated COVID-19’s devastating impact.

The grant of immunity sought by the providers would declare open season on long term care residents for abuse and neglect.  We urge the governor not to take this path.

See provider’s request to the Governor HERE (PDF).