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Florida Lawmakers Want To Shield Health Care Providers From COVID-19 Related Claims

A persons arms and hands are seen. They are pulling on a pair of blue medical gloves.
Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash
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Sen. Jeff Brandes says medical providers worked hard during the pandemic and often had to make due with what they had.
"PPE in nursing homes was a shower cap, a homemade mask and a trash bag. We asked our health care providers to MacGyver their way through this—often with conflicting guidance.”

During the early parts of the coronavirus pandemic, health care workers were asked to do the best they could with what they had. Across the country that meant improvising masks and other protective equipment, stretching staffing levels and sometimes depending on experimental methods for treating COVID-19 patients. Now, lawmakers want to protect medical facilities and nursing homes from liability claims stemming from those unusual circumstances.

“Many of you know that for months on end in the state of Florida, from about March through July or August, PPE in nursing homes was a shower cap, a homemade mask and a trash bag. We asked our health care providers to MacGyver their way through this—often with conflicting guidance,” says Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg)

Brandes is sponsoring the Senate version of a bill that aims to protect healthcare providers from COVID-19 related claims under certain circumstances. Brandes says a nursing home shouldn’t be sued for failing to use proper personal protective equipment, if that PPE wasn’t available.

“If the head of the Department of Emergency Management can’t find masks, can’t find gowns, how in the world is a small nursing home supposed to secure it? How in the world? I mean because his budget was basically unlimited. And yet now we have every nursing home in the country looking for the same type of supply. There was a desperate need for PPE,” Brandes says.

Rep. Colleen Burton (R-Lakeland) is sponsoring similar legislation in the House. She says her goal is to protect patients from bad actors while also protecting medical providers from what she calls “frivolous lawsuits.”

“The bill provides heightened liability protections to health care entities for negligence claims arising out of existing medical malpractice and long-term care facility statute. These are claims relating to contracting COVID, injury due to delay of scheduling surgery, or an act or omission in providing care for a medical condition due to a lack of resources caused by COVID-19, novel or experimental treatment given to a patient or treatment of a COVID patient whose injuries were related to an exacerbation to preexisting conditions by COVID,” Burton says.

But some worry the bills go too far.

“We cannot just blanket immunity for everyone. It’s just not fair,” says Sen. Janet Cruz (D-Tampa).

“She told me the story about a single mom with three kids who said ‘if I come down with COVID or I’m positive, I’m not telling anyone. I just have to come to work. '"

Cruz says she knows of cases where health care facilities fell short. She tells the story of a woman whose job told her once federal money runs out, anyone who tests positive for the coronavirus would have to use their own sick and vacation days to cover their required quarantine period.

“She told me the story about a single mom with three kids who said ‘if I come down with COVID or I’m positive, I’m not telling anyone. I just have to come to work. I can’t take 10 days off. I don’t have that kind of money nor can I do without pay.’ So, you know there are lots of CNAs that work for very minimum wage in these nursing homes,” Cruz says.

Cruz says under those circumstances, she thinks the nursing home should take some responsibility for a worker who comes to work even though they know they’re sick. But Brandes says lawmakers need to remember what health care providers were going through back during those first few months of the pandemic.

“They did the best they could. Even when the tool, the best test they had was a thermometer, which I think we could all agree was a crude tool as a COVID test. But it was the best test we had for months. We had literally thousands of asymptomatic individuals who showed no signs of COVID. And for months we’re going to work and health care providers had really no way of knowing. Tests were not readily available at this time during COVID,” Brandes says.

Brandes says hospitals and nursing homes have gone above and beyond to care for Floridians over the past year. He says it’s the state’s turn to care for them.