Florida's largest advocacy group for long-term care providers is requesting protection from lawsuits for health care professionals engaged in responding to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Florida Health Care Association sent a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis this month requesting "immunity from any liability, civil or criminal" under certain conditions for nursing homes, hospitals and other facilities.
The group is the most recent in a series of health care associations seeking legal immunity amid the pandemic, when hours are long and staffing and equipment are short.
Brian Lee, executive director of Families For Better Care, a nonprofit group advocating for nursing home residents, said the letter was the equivalent of "asking for forgiveness in advance."
"It just got my blood boiling. I was shocked by the temerity of the industry to ask for blanket immunity from lawsuits ... and to do it during the middle of this crisis. It’s appalling, and it’s a total slap in the face of families," Lee said. "All of their focus should be on saving our families lives, but it shows that, at the end of the day, they care more about their own protections. It's gross."
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But the FHCA argues that "in the midst of this unprecedented crisis, (health care professionals) should be able to direct their skills and attention to helping individuals who need them, and not have to worry about being sued for making tough decisions while trying to comply with government directives," spokesperson Kristen Knapp said.
Florida is reporting more than 18,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in the state.
The state's Agency for Health Care Administration said Saturday that the industry’s letter had been received and will be reviewed. "The state is evaluating all options to assist health care workers and facilities on the front lines of the response to COVID-19, although there has been no final decision on this particular request," communications director Katie Strickland said.
A recent USA TODAY analysis of federal inspection data found that a majority of U.S. nursing homes (75%) have been cited for failing to properly monitor and control infections in the past three years – a higher proportion than previously known.
The Life Care Center of Kirkland in Washington state, which U.S. authorities believe to be the site of the first outbreak in a long-term facility, received a five-star overall rating by federal regulators but previously had been criticized for its infection control procedures, according to the investigation.
On Friday, a woman whose mother died of the coronavirus at the Kirkland facility filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the facility's parent company, Life Care Centers of America.
A slew of coronavirus lawsuits have also targeted colleges, cruise lines and other businesses.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus: Florida nursing homes want immunity from COVID-19 lawsuits