With millions of Floridians scared about COVID-19, nursing home lobbyists are using the pandemic to press Governor DeSantis and the Florida Legislature for immunity from lawsuits and even criminal prosecution. So far 16 states have already caved to the pressure from well paid healthcare lobbyists.
So far, a staggering 13,000 nursing home residents in U.S. have died because of COVID-19. That number is inexcusable. Residents of nursing homes are vulnerable. Very vulnerable. And unlike most Americans, they can do little to protect themselves. They are totally dependent on caregivers to keep them safe.
Already we have read horror stories of how the coronavirus can spread through a nursing home like a fire through dry tinder. Of nursing homes with dead bodies piled in hallways or in the case of one New Jersey nursing home, stacked in a trailer parked outside.
Giving nursing homes immunity from their poor decisions shouldn’t even be up for discussion. Nursing homes, however, see it as a get out of jail card. (In Maine, the immunity legislation being pushed by the nursing home lobby is literally a “get-out-of-jail-free” card as it includes immunity from criminal prosecution including murder!)
No matter how careful a facility is, no one can guarantee their patients will never catch a virus. Even with adequate testing and infectious disease protocols, a few residents may get sick. Existing laws and negligence standards are more than adequate to protect nursing homes who are sued if they can show they followed all safety protocols.
The stories below, however, show that many deaths and infections are preventable. And no Florida nursing home should get a free pass for its own negligence.
An attorney for the Center for Medicare Advocacy says, "Most staff in nursing homes are doing the very best they can, under horrendous circumstances. But the combination of fewer rules, no family, no ombudsmen, no surveyors, no enforcement, more money and now industry efforts to get immunity from civil and criminal liability for anything related to coronavirus is a lethal combination in the hands of unscrupulous people."
We dislike blanket grants of immunity because they provide a reverse incentive for nursing homes to better protect their vulnerable residents. Why do anything if you don’t have to worry about lawsuits?
Nursing home workers are heroes. But that doesn’t give them a free pass to neglect our loved ones living in assisted living and skilled nursing facilities.
Florida Cracks Down on Nursing Homes with COVID-19 Outbreaks
Although inspections are way down for safety reasons, Florida’s Agency for Healthcare Administration continues to inspect nursing homes. With 20% of Florida’s coronavirus deaths occurring in nursing homes, the agency has been focused on how facilities respond to a resident or worker who tests positive. What they are finding is very scary.
In the paragraphs below we look at three facilities that were so bad that state officials had to issue emergency orders prohibiting the facilities from taking new patients. In one case, the state ordered the facility closed.
Fair Havens Center – Miami Springs, Florida
Fair Haven Springs is a for profit facility with 269 licensed beds. On May 8, 2020 the state imposed an immediate moratorium on admissions on the facility after determining there was a serious “threat to the health, safety, or welfare” of residents.
According to the order:
“The Facility maintains an isolation area on the second floor for COVID-19 patients.
“On May 6, 2020 at 10:30 a.m, a wound care nurse exited a COV1D 19 positive resident room in full personal protective equipment ("PPE'').
“The nurse did not remove the PPE and indicated, upon interview, that in order to preserve PPE stocks she would only wash her hands and change gloves.
“On May 6, 2020 at 12:20, an occupational therapist was observed in the COVID- l9 isolation area not wearing full PPE, but merely a surgical mask and gloves. The therapist was feeding a resident. Signage on the door indicated the resident was on droplet precautions; however, the therapist failed to utilize the recommended PPE precautions.
“The census of the Facility produced reflected that eleven (11) COVID-19 positive residents were placed in two-bed rooms with residents who were not positive for the Coronavirus. These eleven (11) rooms were located in various areas on the Facility's first floor resident areas. At least fifteen (15) COVID-19 negative residents were exposed to COVID-19 due to the placement of the eleven (11) residents.
“The Facility's director of nursing, who also served as the Facility's risk manager, indicated that the facility did not consider a resident who had not been tested for the Coronavirus to require isolation or droplet protection for fourteen (14) days even if the resident had experienced known exposure to a resident who had been determined to be COVID-19 positive.
“The Facility's infection control nurse docs not keep a surveillance map of infections within the Facility.
“On May 6, 2020, in the isolation area for untested suspected COVID-19 residents, lunch trays for the residents were not identified as from the isolation area to indicate potential contamination and were placed with non-COVID concern resident trays for cleaning.”
It should come as no surprise that the Florida nursing home authorities that the conditions at Fair Havens Center presented “a threat to the health, safety or welfare or residents of the Facility” and an “immediate serious danger to the public health.”
What do the feds say about Fair Havens Center? They aren’t very impressed with the facility either. Medicare rates nursing homes on a scale from “much below average” to “much above average.” The for-profit Fair Havens Center received an overall grade of much below average.
The facility was last inspected by Medicare in February before the pandemic had truly taken a hold in the U.S. At that time the auditors found two out of four residents sampled were not receiving safe and appropriate respiratory care. That certainly is an ominous red flag just weeks before thousands of nursing home patients would die from respiratory complications related to coronavirus.
[Ed Note: Medicare’s report cards on any U.S. nursing home can be found online.]
Cross Landings Health and Rehabilitation Center Flunks COVID-19 Response
Located near Tallahassee, Florida in the sleepy town of Monticello sits the small 60 resident Cross Landings Health and Rehabilitation Center. On April 17, 2020, Florida authorities issued an immediate jeopardy finding and prohibited the facility from admitting new patients.
To better understand what happened, some background is necessary.
Florida law says no resident who is suffering from a communicable disease “shall be admitted or retained unless the medical director or attending physician certifies that adequate or appropriate isolation measures are available to control transmission of the disease.” Residents can’t even remain if they require services beyond those for which the facility is licensed or has the functional ability to provide. These rules are meant to protect the other residents from communicable diseases like coronavirus.
According to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, on April 5, 2020 four residents of Cross Landings Health and Rehabilitation were identified as “Persons Under Investigation" as defined by Centers for Disease Control guidelines. These potential COVID-19 infected residents were not placed in isolation to prevent the spread of the infection.
Although facility staff indicated any resident returning from a hospitalization would be placed in a private room for seven days, they were not placed under isolation, either physically or operationally.
One staff member was suffering from a sore throat (a sign of coronavirus) but continued providing care for patients. At the same time, inspectors noted that staff were improperly removing PPE. Staff were also observed not sanitizing their hands when entering and exiting isolation areas and after removing face masks.
A thermometer used to test staff was not sanitized between uses. A housekeeper did not sanitize herself or her cart when traveling from room to room. Even a non-isolation patient was observed freely entering an isolation area unchallenged.
Although at the facility to check on coronavirus precautions, inspectors found one resident “lying on a bed with no sheets; a soiled brief and wipes on the floor; and no gloves, hand sanitizer, or trash bags in the room.”
Inspectors also observed a resident suspected of COVID-19 infection “without a mask sitting in a hallway with other residents not suspected of having contracted the virus.”
There were many other violations. Concerned about the welfare of both residents and staff, the inspectors even offered to help provide assistance and training. After several visits and repeated safety violations, Florida issued the order preventing new patient admissions.
Sadly, subsequent testing done on the patients found many were infected with coronavirus.
Unlike the Fair Havens Center above, Cross Landings Health and Rehabilitation Center received high marks from Medicare when last inspected.
Sara Home Care
Sara Home Care is different from the other facilities in that it is an assisted living facility and not a nursing home. The 16 bed residence is located in Homestead, Florida. Like nursing homes, it is also regulated by the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration. It received an emergency suspension order on May 8, 2020.
Sara Home Care’s inspection was off to a rocky start. No one screened the two investigators when they entered the facility to ensure they didn’t have coronavirus. In fact, the investigators observed other staff and the facility’s administrator enter without being properly screened. Investigators found the “facility had no protocol for screening of persons entering the Facility, either staff or third parties, for infection control.”
A patient that complained of fever and respiratory problems was not tested for coronavirus.
There was no demonstrated effort to have residents maintain any social distancing from one another. Two residents sat side-by side on a love seat for an extended period of time.
Assisted living facility residents have more freedoms than nursing home residents who require constant care. That creates special challenges, however, because residents who come and go are more susceptible to bringing the virus into the facility. During the inspection, a resident was observed getting on a bus in order to attend a day program. The resident was not given a mask or face covering before leaving the facility.
While these violations may not seem as bad as those observed at other facilities, the inspectors noted a long history of problems. Unlike Fair Havens Center and Cross Landings, Florida officials took the extreme step of ordering the facility to close meaning residents must find new living arrangements.
Florida Nursing Homes Are Not Above the Law - Say No to Florida Nursing Home Immunity
We bristle when high paid lobbyists cry to the governor and Florida legislature pleading for immunity. We still remember when prosecutors indicted four employees of the Rehabilitation Center of Hollywood Hills just outside of Miami after 12 residents died. For three days, administrators did nothing after the facilities AC failed during a power outage. Despite patients having temperatures as high as 107, the owners and administrators didn’t seek to transfer vulnerable patients to other facilities or hospitals. They allowed them to die in their beds.
That was in 2017. Today we have coronavirus and its effects are being felt across Florida. Giving facilities immunity from lawsuits will only encourage worse patient care. Jurors are smart, they almost always make the right call. If a facility truly did everything in its power to prevent the spread of coronavirus and someone dies, those that operate the facility have nothing to fear.
Administrators who make no attempt to follow rules regarding isolation or testing of everyone entering the facility shouldn’t get a free pass, however.
Did a Loved One Die of Coronavirus in a Florida Nursing Home?
As noted above, coronavirus outbreaks in our nursing homes are largely preventable. If a loved one died in a nursing home or assisted living facility because of coronavirus or coronavirus complications, we can help. For more information, visit our nursing home neglect page. Ready to see if you have a case? Contact us online, by email [hidden email] or by phone 833.201.1555. All inquiries are protected by the attorney – client privilege. Cases handled nationwide.
[In addition to coronavirus COVID-19 cases, we consider other nursing home neglect cases including those involving serious bodily injury, sexual assault, death and bedsores (pressure ulcers). If we can’t help, someone in our network probably can. We have lawyers licensed in many states including Florida.]