Assisted living communities, skilled nursing facilities and other long-term care and healthcare entities, and the people who work for them, should be “protected from liability” for treating anyone with COVID-19 during the current pandemic, the Florida Health Care Association said in an April 3 letter to Sunshine State Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The letter was reported on over the weekend by local and national media outlets. The request is one of the first of its type related to the pandemic to be made of a state government, BuzzFeed reported, adding that DeSantis is considering it, although a final decision has not been made.

“Any immunity granted should not apply if damages were caused by an act or omission constituting willful or intentional criminal misconduct, gross negligence, reckless misconduct, or intentional infliction of harm by the health care facility or health care professional providing health care services,” FHCA Executive Director J. Emmett Reed, CAE, recommended in the letter. “[H]owever, acts, omissions, or decisions resulting from a resource or staffing shortage shall not be considered willful or intentional misconduct, gross negligence, reckless misconduct, or intentional infliction of harm.”

FHCA spokeswoman Kristen Knapp told BuzzFeed that workers “should not have to worry about being sued for making tough decisions while trying to comply with government directives.”

As of Sunday, according to state data, there were 19,337 cases of COVID-19 in Florida, 905 of which involved long-term care residents or staff members.

In other coronavirus-related news:

  • A federal judge in Florida ruled Thursday that former assisted living and nursing home owner Philip Esformes is not at acute risk during the COVID-19 pandemic due to his asthma and therefore must remain in prison, Law360 reported. Esformes is appealing a 20-year sentence and awaiting a possible retrial after being found guilty last year on more than 20 counts, including bribery and paying kickbacks, in what government officials described in 2016 as “the largest single criminal healthcare fraud case ever brought against individuals by the Department of Justice.”
  • Argentum said Friday that it remains focused on advocating for the senior living industry to ensure industry access to some of the funds that are yet to be distributed from the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund via the CARES Act. The Department of Health and Human Services announced Friday that the first $30 billion in funds will target hospitals and providers that received Medicare fee-for-service reimbursements in 2019. “CMS has noted that the administration is working diligently on the plans for the remaining $70 billion, which could be released within the next 10 days,” Argentum said.
  • Kentucky state government officials have formed a 10-member task force of healthcare professionals with long-term care experience to advise them on how to stop the spread of COVID-19 in assisted living communities and nursing homes, reported Saturday. Approximately two dozen facilities have had positive cases of the disease, including some deaths.
  • In California on Friday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state would take more steps to protect residents and workers at assisted living and skilled nursing facilities, including training and deploying 600 nurses to support compliance with COVID-19 guidance and assist facilities with positive cases, prioritizing personal protective equipment to facilities with COVID-19-positive staff members or residents and facilities that are at increased risk to COVID-19, and offering no-cost or low-cost hotel rooms for workers who have had possible exposure to COVID-19 or who test positive for COVID-19 and do not need to be hospitalized.
  • In North Carolina on Thursday, Gov. Roy Cooper mandated new risk mitigation measures for skilled nursing facilities and said he “strongly encourages” other types of long-term care facilities to follow them as well. The measures include canceling group meals and activities, taking employee temperatures when they enter the building, requiring specific personal protective equipment in facilities, and requiring the close monitoring of residents for COVID-19 indicators, such as body temperature.
  • In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday announced emergency rules for long-term care facilities that went into effect April 3. For assisted living, the rules describe essential service providers who can enter buildings, require temperatures to be taken of anyone entering a building, and prohibit anyone from entering a building if they show symptoms of COVID-19.

Editor’s Note, April 13: LeadingAge Florida subsequently also called for “a routine level of legal immunity” for long-term care providers.