Senior advocates and lawmakers respond to 19 News nursing home investigation

Updated: Feb. 19, 2021 at 5:40 PM EST
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Senior care advocates and lawmakers are responding after an exclusive 19 News investigation.

Our special report revealed how the pandemic may be affecting overall care of Ohio nursing home residents.

Thursday, we told you about James Stalker’s experience living in this nursing home throughout the course of the pandemic.

Stalker says he and his family have filed complaints with the state about filthy conditions at Pleasant Lake Villa.

Stalker believes COVID-19 is being used as a scapegoat for any issues that come up.

“There is no accountability anymore because all you have to do is say it’s COVID,” Stalker said. “How does COVID allow you to leave a [soiled] bed pan by my TV?”

Ohio AARP’s Jason Smith reacted after hearing about our story.

Though Stalker’s complaints were about one facility, Smith sees a potential industry-wide problem.

“It is that exact situation that you described, that we feared,” he said.

Pleasant Lake Villa denied Stalker’s allegations and correctly pointed to its five-star rating from regulators.

Smith says Stalker’s allegations didn’t come as a real surprise, though.

“I’m not shocked, I’m disheartened to hear it,” Smith said.

Last fall, Ohio legislators passed a bill that shields nursing homes from COVID-related lawsuits, until September of 2021.

AARP says that stripped residents of the right to recourse should they need it.

“The fact that that isn’t even available to the gentleman you’re talking about is a real concern,” Smith said.

Before house bill 606 was signed into law, Representative Diane Grendell of Geauga County said she wanted to help caretakers already putting themselves in harm’s way.

“I thought if I could give them a little piece of mind, from a frivolous lawsuit,” she said.

However, with continued restrictions on visitors and less eyes on the residents, Smith and other opponents worried the move would “incentivize bad behavior” and lead the overall quality of care to diminish.

“All of those add up to being the absolute wrong time to be providing immunity like this,” Smith said.

With a little more than 6 months left until immunity expires, lawmakers will soon have to begin conversations about whether to extend the measure. Is it adversely affecting residents like Stalker?

“I think that it is really timely that you are raising this issue right now,” Smith said.

We reached out to Representative Grendell and other lawmakers to see where they stand on the immunity law now.

Grendell has not responded yet.

Representative Jeff Crossman did call us back. He says he strongly opposed the bill last year and would not vote to extend any immunity.

In fact, Crossman went a step further, saying the state should repeal the “bad policy” now.

The Ohio Hospital Association sent a representative to testify in support of HB 606 last year. We reached out to the organization again this week.

A spokesperson said, “We are supportive of the legislation. Hospitals have been on the front lines of the response to COVID-19 pandemic and at various times during the pandemic have had their staff and other resources significantly strained. The liability protections for hospitals in HB 606 is essential to ensure providers take all steps necessary to adequately respond to this health crisis. In the midst of a worldwide pandemic, Ohioans cannot afford to have their health care providers inhibited from necessary action due to fear of litigation or liability. We need our health care providers to provide necessary care without fear that their actions will result in liability.”

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