Indiana is passing laws to give immunity to nursing homes that abuse and neglect residents. The new law applies retroactively to March 2020. The nursing home industry wants immunity from all lawsuits. Republicans made immunity for the industry a top priority for this year’s legislative session. Supporters are unable to point to any such lawsuits in the state.
However, experts and advocates for nursing home residents say the new Indiana law expanding COVID-19 liability protections for health care providers will take away resident’s rights. The law will prohibit lawsuits over neglect and substandard treatment that weren’t caused by the pandemic. Critics maintain nursing homes will escape accountability for deaths and injuries caused by problems unrelated to the pandemic, such as inadequate staffing, training, and poor infection control.
The new law protects health care providers against any claims “arising from COVID-19” including the reallocation of staff, delaying or modifying nonemergency medical services and reasonable nonperformance of medical services due to COVID-19.
Jody Madeira is a professor who teaches medical law at Indiana University. She believes the immunity for staffing is especially concerning, she told The Indianapolis Star:
“As soon as you go into staffing, which nursing homes have problems with in the best of times, then it opens up the door to just about anything.”
Indiana’s ranks 48th in the nation for total nursing staff hours before the pandemic when adjusted for patient needs, despite receiving more nursing home Medicaid funds than nearly any other state. The AARP, the state’s largest advocacy group for older adults, said it worries about the new law’s impact. Sarah Waddle is the state director of AARP Indiana and responds:
“Are we prioritizing protecting the facilities? Or are we prioritizing protecting the residents and their families? When we know that there are bad actors within that system, why are we so quick to always protect them?”