Tens of thousands of people have already died from COVID-19 as a result of negligence at nursing homes. According to the New York Times, as of February 1, more than 148,000 residents and employees of 30,000 nursing homes have died, and more than 1.2 million have been infected. To put that in perspective, the total number of US casualties in the Korean War was 128,000.
The inability to control and contain the coronavirus in nursing homes during the past year is a story of epic failure, neglect, poor planning, and irresponsible behavior. In theory, nursing homes should have been the safest places in America. Nursing homes are highly regulated by the Federal Government and were already required to have strict infection control protocols in place, well before the COVID -19 pandemic hit. The only way to explain why so many people died is to acknowledge that nursing home operators put profits above safety and chose not to spend money on protective equipment and training for staff and residents.
How Nursing Homes are trying to deflect responsibility
And yet, now it is coming to light that many nursing home chains are trying to use an arcane law known as the PREP Act to argue that they should be immune to both non-COVID neglect/abuse and COVID claims. Let’s get this straight – the Nursing Home Industry has screwed up, neglected, injured, and killed tens of thousands of elderly residents. Now they are trying to cheat their families out of redress by asserting inapplicable, frivolous defenses at which even the Courts are scoffing. It defies all reason.
What is the PREP Act? It is a 2005 law designed to encourage the production of emergency vaccines during an epidemic by granting drug developers legal immunity. The law was put in place to boost vaccine production, knowing that speed to market for new drugs outweighed the risk that certain newly developed drugs might not work. How is that remotely related to nursing home chains that routinely neglected patients, needlessly exposed them to a highly infectious disease, and then lied to cover up neglect? Nursing homes are trying to use the Coronavirus epidemic to justify all kinds of failings, even when they have nothing to do with the virus.
The case of Palestine Howze, a 71-year-old woman who died in a North Carolina nursing home on April 14, 2020, is representative. Ms. Howze developed pressure sores, a tell-tale sign of elder neglect, and she died from a massive infection. The nursing home where she passed away, Treyburn Rehabilitation Center, says that North Carolina granted legal immunity to shield them from COVID-19 lawsuits. Ms. Howze’s daughter, who is suing the facility, says just the opposite, namely that Treyburn failed to provide adequate care, which has nothing whatsoever to do with COVID-19. According to NPR, a Superior Court judge will decide whether the immunity North Carolina gave to nursing homes in response to COVID-19 extends to non-COVID cases as well.
We can only hope that common sense prevails and that the family will have its day in court. The Coronavirus epidemic is a tragedy, no doubt. And it should not be used as a ‘get out of jail free card’ for the negligence and incompetence of skilled nursing facilities that already had a regulatory duty to prevent contagious infections and have strong Infection Control Programs before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Attorney Wendy York of York Law Firm specializes in prosecuting elder abuse and wrongful death cases throughout California. For further information, please contact York Law Firm today.