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EDITORIAL: Blanket immunity is a worrisome trend

EDITORIAL: Blanket immunity is a worrisome trend

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PHOTO: Nursing home

THE Virginia General Assembly has passed a bill giving blanket civil immunity to assisted-living facilities, hospices and adult day care centers, the same immunity already given to hospitals and nursing homes. The bill sailed through both chambers: 36-0 in the Senate and 84-13 in the House of Delegates.

We sympathize with care facilities. Nobody could have foreseen the COVID-19 pandemic. It is understandable that providers everywhere found themselves in no-win situations, with shortages of personnel, supplies and knowledge. Such facilities became Ground Zero in the early days of the plague.

Even now, more than half the state’s pandemic deaths have occurred in long-term care facilities. By the end of April, one such center in Henrico County had 50 coronavirus-related deaths.

However, “blanket” anything is worrisome. Staff at such facilities do heroic work. Some of them have given their own lives in an effort to contain the virus. As an industry, though, such facilities have had longstanding care and oversight issues.

Giving blanket immunity (except for “gross negligence or willful misconduct,” a tough barrier to clear) to such places takes away a large incentive to do better. There is less encouragement for large corporations that run such facilities to spend whatever it takes to put patients’ health ahead of the bottom line.

The AARP, not surprisingly, opposes such blanket immunity, stating, “[Legal action] is always an option of last resort, but it must remain an option.”

The medical community, equally unsurprisingly, heartily endorses it. There is fear among patient advocates that such bills in Virginia and elsewhere will encourage the industry to seek wider immunity from liability. Right now, the blanket immunity ends when the pandemic is over, and it’s up to Governor Ralph Northam to say when that is.

Why not put the onus on the care facility rather than the families of COVID-19 victims if a certain facility has a long record of failing to meet health standards?

Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress is considering legislation that would extend that blanket immunity nationwide.

Trust is a wonderful thing, and most care facilities have not abused it, we are sure. Without consequences, though, trust becomes a tenuous thing. It’s why businesses are audited.

When Ronald Reagan said, “Trust, but verify,” he was speaking about another issue entirely. However, it’s a good standard for care facilities in the time of COVID-19.

Trust your loved one’s assisted-care facility to do its best, but a little verification wouldn’t hurt, either.

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