Luzerne and Lackawanna County Coronavirus cases continue to grow, and as of Tuesday, May 12, 2020 the death tolls in Luzerne and Lackawanna counties are 120 and 124, respectively. As the public health crisis develops, Governor Wolf has joined over a dozen other states in enacting a policy that will protect frontline healthcare workers from civil liability during this state of emergency. On May 6, 2020 Governor Wolf signed an Executive Order granting civil immunity to COVID-19 healthcare providers. Essentially, this means that front line workers at health care facilities like hospitals, care sites, and testing sites will not face civil lawsuits for harm caused to another person except in cases of willful misconduct or gross negligence. Importantly, the Governor did not extend this civil immunity to the facilities or entities themselves where  these front line health care providers work.

The Coronavirus has had a particularly devastating, widespread impact on nursing homes in Pennsylvania and across America. Approximately 500 Pennsylvania nursing homes have had cases of the virus. Recent newspaper reports reveal deaths in nursing and personal care homes make up 67% of all deaths attributable to the Coronavirus in the state, and about 86% of the 124 deaths reported in Lackawanna County. While the Governor’s Executive Order protects front line workers of nursing homes, the corporations that run the nursing homes, particularly those with a bad track record on patient safety, can still be held responsible for harm to their residents.

Not surprisingly, many nursing facilities with high Covid-19 related death rates had previous citations for management issues like poor staffing and training, which made them ill equipped to follow safety protocols in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. A large percentage of the nursing homes with high infection counts had also been cited for insufficient measures in cleanliness or safety preparedness. The pandemic is no excuse when a bad track record in safety and cleanliness causes harm to patients they are required to protect. These institutions are not immune from civil liability for failing to take reasonable measures to prevent the spread of disease.

In today’s news, it was reported that the State Attorney General’s office has launched criminal investigations into several nursing homes in response to complaints from community leaders and concerned citizens. As advocates for the elderly we are happy to see that Pennsylvania is not allowing institutions like nursing homes to use Covid-19 as a “free pass” when someone in their care dies from the virus. As we have stated from the beginning of this crisis, the helpless victims trapped in a dangerous nursing home deserve justice. This justice is obtained by holding nursing homes legally accountable for the preventable deaths they cause.

For more information on nursing home negligence during Coronavirus, visit our blog.