By Paul Hughes, Republican-American
HARTFORD — The nursing home industry is feeling exposed after Gov. Ned Lamont moved to strip limited legal immunity granted to health care facilities amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lamont has decided on March 1 to halt emergency protections that shielded nursing homes and hospitals from potential lawsuits for any injuries or deaths connected to COVID-19 care since last April. Health care professionals will generally remain immune from being sued.
The announcement came one day before the latest emergency order was due to expire Tuesday.
Nursing home operators are disappointed and concerned because the COVID-19 uncertainties and issues outside of their control that were the basis for the limited civil immunity are still present, said Matthew Barrett, president of Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities and Connecticut Center for Assisted Living, and Mag Morelli, president of LeadingAge Connecticut.
The two long-term care industry representatives said new, highly contagious variants of the coronavirus now threaten the older and medically compromised nursing home population.
Morelli and Barrett also said Lamont’s emergency orders never granted blanket immunity to health care facilities for gross negligence, willful misconduct and crimes.
Rather, the directives offered limited protection for personal injury and wrongful death claims arising out of any acts or omissions for providing health care services in support of the state’s COVID-19 response.
The Connecticut Hospital Association also expressed disappointment and concern over Lamont’s decision.
AARP Connecticut, however, applauded Lamont’s decision Monday. So did Mairead Painter, the state’s long-term care ombudsman, and other advocates for the elderly who had been urging Lamont to end the immunity for nursing homes.
The governor first granted the legal immunity in an executive order issued last April, roughly one month after the first COVID-19 cases were identified in Connecticut. The initial order ran through Sept. 9, but was extended by Lamont through Nov. 9, and again through Feb. 9.
“I am very pleased Governor Lamont has decided it is time to put nursing home residents and their families first,” said Nora Duncan, state director of AARP Connecticut.
Lamont cited downward trends in the hospitalization and death rates in explaining his decision Monday. He also pointed to the progress in the state’s ongoing vaccination program and how nearly all nursing home residents have received their doses.
The latest weekly report showed COVID-19 cases in Connecticut nursing homes were down 79% since the start of the year and deaths in nursing homes were down 68%. There have been 13,782 cases and 3,873 deaths. The next weekly report will be released Thursday.
State health officials reported Tuesday there were upticks in the infection, hospitalization and death rates in the general population.
There were 869 new cases of COVID-19 reported out of 22,602 test results that were received since Sunday. The percentage of positive tests was 3.8%.
There now have been 264,608 cases reported and more than 6 million molecular and antigen tests done.
Hospitalizations ticked up slightly after having declined steadily over the last two weeks. There was a net increase of 11 patients hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 bringing the total to 826 statewide.
An additional 16 coronavirus-linked deaths reported Tuesday brought the death toll to 7,298.
The state reported five news cases total and no new coronavirus-associated deaths in Beacon Falls, Naugatuck and Prospect since Monday. There have been 2,604 cases in Naugatuck, 648 in Prospect and 411 in Beacon Falls since last March.
There have been 83 coronavirus-associated deaths in Naugatuck, six in Beacon Falls and two in Prospect.
Elio Gugliotti contributed to this report.