This week, Arizona legislators will vote on bill 1377, which would shield nursing homes from civil liability for negligence while providing services during the Covid-19 pandemic.
At least 32 states have already passed laws or issued executive orders during the pandemic making it harder for nursing home residents or their families to take the companies that run these facilities to court. The new Arizona bill would protect any health care institution assumed to be acting in “good faith” except in cases of “willful misconduct” or “gross negligence.”
The provision of such broad immunity is particularly problematic for nursing homes in light of growing evidence indicating that during the pandemic, nursing home residents have suffered considerable harms from neglect and prolonged isolation, in addition to the risk of Covid-19 itself.
In a report published last week, Human Rights Watch documented serious concerns over possible neglect in nursing homes across the United States during the pandemic’s first year, when staffing was low and family members were often not allowed in facilities. Residents, family members, and staff reported extreme weight loss, dehydration, and infected bedsores, which in some cases may have contributed to death. In many cases, residents’ hygiene appeared to have been neglected as well, with family members reporting residents were left in soiled incontinence pads for hours at a time and their hair and fingernails grew long and dirty. Many nursing home residents, deprived of daily social contact because of restrictions on visitors and activities, declined physically and emotionally.
The academic evidence echoes our findings: just last week, an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association (JAMDA) found that in Connecticut nursing homes, depression, substantial weight loss, and incontinence increased among residents in the four months after visitor restrictions went into place.
During the pandemic, independent monitors were largely restricted from visiting facilities, leaving fewer mechanisms for residents and their loved ones to have concerns addressed quickly and effectively.
Arizona should reject immunity for nursing homes and take a different path, as some other states have done. On March 24, New York state lawmakers repealed corporate immunity for nursing homes in the wake of reports about lack of transparency around Covid-19 deaths in nursing homes.
Nursing home residents across the US need access to the courts now more than ever to protect themselves from neglect and abuse. Arizona legislators should not strip them of their ability to exercise this fundamental right.