Nursing home advocates speak out against state bills that would allow legal immunity during pandemic

The Ohio Statehouse.
The Ohio Statehouse.(WOIO)
Updated: May. 27, 2020 at 8:23 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - A pair of new state bills moving forward would shield businesses and health care providers from lawsuits related to declared emergencies like the coronavirus.

Both bills were discussed at hearings at the Ohio Statehouse Wednesday.

Nursing home advocates said the bills would strip away accountability when their loved ones need it the most.

But lawmakers argue the bills will protect companies and professionals from overwhelming litigation.

19 Investigates is looking at the impact of this on our local nursing homes, their residents and families.

Vicki Krafthefer is against both state bills. Her sister Christy is in a nursing home in Westerville.

They were born just 10 months apart.

“We're almost like twins, I know what she's going to do before she even does it or thinks it,” Krafthefer said.

But Christy needs a lot of help day-to-day.

“She's mentally challenged, paralyzed on the right side, and wheelchair bound,” she said.

Christy contracted COVID-19, but was asymptomatic.

Their only visits now are through her nursing home room window.

“It kind of feels like you have a baby, and all of a sudden the baby's gotta stay in the hospital and you gotta go home,” Krafthefer said.

Krafthefer fights for those in nursing homes like her sister, through Elderly Advocates, a grassroots non-profit organization.

She testified against House Bill 606 Wednesday at the state capitol. The bill grants immunity to essential workers who transmit COVID-19.

Senate Bill 308 is similar, focusing on the civil liability of businesses and health care providers.

19 Investigates spoke to local State Senator Kristina Roegner (R- Hudson), cosponsor of that bill, on May 13 over the phone.

“The legislative intent to this is to provide toward action immunity, to folks that are trying to do the job to the best of their ability, whether it's the healthcare industry or in retail,” she said.

Roegner said lawmakers are balancing health with trying to reopen the economy.

We asked her to respond to concerns we heard from nursing home advocates.

“Nothing in here is intended at all to provide cover for anyone that would cause harm or death to anybody else, absolutely not,” Roegner said.

But William Eadie disagrees. He is a nursing home abuse lawyer with Eadie Hill Trial Lawyers in Cleveland.

Eadie said under the house bill, "You would have to prove someone was 'willful or wanton,' that is, purposefully committed wrongful acts knowing injury was likely. That is an incredibly high standard, about as close as you can get to intentional, criminal conduct. Most negligence claims for unsafe practices that kill nursing home residents would get dismissed under this standard."

"I don’t doubt that the lawmakers that are pushing these bills mean it to do good, but in reality what we know is there isn’t a lawsuit crisis, there isn’t going to be an avalanche of people suing over COVID-19, when people are being safe and following the rules,” Eadie said.

Krafthefer said nursing homes need to be held accountable, especially now, if something goes wrong.

“It's almost like they're kind of giving a death sentence to the people in the nursing home,” she said.

Dozens of organizations support these bills, from the Ohio Chamber of Commerce to the Ohio Hospital Association.

Senate Bill 308 had its fourth hearing in the judiciary committee Wednesday.

House Bill 606 had its fifth hearing in the civil justice committee and voted to move an amended version to the committee on rules next.

19 Investigates will continue to watch these bills at the Ohio Statehouse.

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