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Nursing homes wield pandemic immunity laws to duck wrongful death suits

Fred Schulte, KFF Health News, KFF Health News on

Published in Health & Fitness

In early 2020, with reports of COVID-19 outbreaks making dire headlines, Trever Schapers worried about her father’s safety in a nursing home in Queens.

She had delighted in watching her dad, John Schapers, blow out the candles on his 90th birthday cake that February at the West Lawrence Care Center in the New York City borough. Then the home went into lockdown.

Soon her father was dead. The former union painter spiked a fever and was transferred to a hospital, where he tested positive for COVID, his daughter said, and after two weeks on a ventilator, he died in May 2020.

But when Trever Schapers sued the nursing home for negligence and wrongful death in 2022, a judge dismissed the case, citing a New York state law hastily passed early in the pandemic. It granted immunity to medical providers for “harm or damages” from an “act or omission” in treating or arranging care for COVID. She is appealing the decision.

“I feel that families are being ignored by judges and courts not recognizing that something needs to be done and changed,” said Schapers, 48, who works in the medical field. “There needs to be accountability.”

The nursing home did not return calls seeking comment. In a court filing, the home argued that Schapers offered no evidence that the home was “grossly negligent” in treating her father.

 

More than four years after COVID first raged through many U.S. nursing homes, hundreds of lawsuits blaming patient deaths on negligent care have been tossed out or languished in the courts amid contentious legal battles.

Even some nursing homes that were shut down by health officials for violating safety standards have claimed immunity against such suits, court records show. And some families that allege homes kept them in the dark about the health of their loved ones, even denying there were cases of COVID in the building, have had their cases dismissed.

Schapers alleged in a complaint to state health officials that the nursing home failed to advise her that it had admitted COVID-positive patients from a nearby hospital in March 2020. In early April, she received a call telling her the facility had some COVID-positive residents.

“The call I received was very alarming, and they refused to answer any of my questions,” she said.

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©2024 KFF Health News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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