Assisted living and other long-term care providers in Florida would be protected from civil liability lawsuits related to COVID-19 under legislation introduced Wednesday by state Sen. Jeff Brandes (R–St. Petersburg).

“No industry in Florida has been as heavily impacted during COVID-19 as our health care providers,” Brandes said in a statement, noting that providers have been faced with evolving standards and limited resources such as personal protective equipment.

“In many cases, these health care providers were required to make a judgment call with often times limited or conflicting guidance. In a situation like COVID-19, where non-urgent medical procedures were temporarily put on hold, every situation cannot be anticipated,” he continued. “We want our health care providers making the judgment that a procedure is either urgent or a non-emergency to be protected from unfair lawsuits for these decisions. This bill makes certain our laws support applying judgment calls in these situations and many others.”

Senate Bill 74 would require plaintiffs who file pandemic-related lawsuits to prove that a healthcare provider’s conduct constituted gross negligence or intentional misconduct. The protections would apply to acts or omissions made when providers relied on government-issued health standards or guidance relating to COVID-19.

In addition to assisted living communities, the legislation, if passed, also would protect adult family care homes, companion and homemaker services, nursing homes, home health agencies, home medical equipment providers, adult day centers and hospices, among other types of healthcare providers.

The bill would take effect upon becoming a law and would apply retroactively except to defendants who were named in lawsuits filed before the effective date. The protections would apply until one year after the state or federal public health emergency relating to COVID-19 is terminated or expires, whichever date is later.

Individuals would have one year to bring a claim, starting from the date of diagnosis, hospitalization or death from COVID-19, whichever is the latest applicable date.

The bill passed the Senate Committee on Judiciary, chaired by Brandes, last week and now is in the Commerce and Tourism Committee.

As of Jan. 29, the state reported 9,398 total COVID-related deaths in long-term care, 9,174 of which were residents and 89 of which were staff members.

Steve Bahmer, LeadingAge Florida president and CEO, said the trade association appreciates the senator’s work to extend what Bahmer described as reasonable liability protections to providers.

“This bill is the first step in giving providers the confidence and protection needed to continue providing the highest quality of care for Florida’s seniors in the midst of an ongoing pandemic,” Bahmer said, adding that LeadingAge Florida will continue to work with state legislators on the effort. Enacting reasonable COVID-19 liability protections for long-term care is one of LeadingAge Florida’s legislative priorities for 2021, the group said Thursday.

The Florida Senior Living Association also thanked Brandes.

The state senator introduced the bill with two chamber colleagues, but not every one of his colleagues is a proponent.

State Sen. Gary Farmer (D–Fort Lauderdale), who revealed Wednesday that he tested positive for COVID-19, tweeted of assisted living communities and nursing homes: “no way those facilities especially should be immune….their single job for the captive residents & for which they are well-paid is to safeguard their residents!!”

Consumer advocacy group Families for Better Care, a national organization based in Florida, tweeted that lawmakers, instead of providing immunity to providers, should mandate “a strong minimum staffing standard with tough enforcement” and provide operators with the funds to fulfill the mandate.

Brandes also introduced Senate Bill 72, meant to protect businesses safely reopening during the pandemic. It passed the state Senate Judiciary Committee last week.