PA Gov Tom Wolf hedshot

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed a bill giving senior living organizations limited liability protections on Monday. The legislation would undermine COVID-19 mitigation efforts and endanger public health, he said.

Specifically, he insisted the measure would have provided “broad, overreaching immunity from civil liability.” Wolf previously had supported protections against liability for emergency and disaster services activities taken by healthcare providers in a May 6 executive order.

“Shielding entities from liability in such a broad fashion as provided under this bill invites the potential for carelessness and a disregard for public safety,” Wolf said Monday. “Providing immunity for a business that does not rigorously comply with public health orders does not ensure the safety of the public, its employees and is not in the public interest.”

LeadingAge PA President and CEO Adam Marles said House Bill 1737 had bipartisan support and that Wolf “turned his back” on long-term care providers during a pandemic.

“Long-term care providers must have the support of their state government at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is surging and still an immense challenge,” Marles said, adding that it is “stunning” that the governor “chose trial lawyers” over long-term care providers fighting the pandemic on the front lines.

Zach Shamberg, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, said the bill would have protected long-term care providers from predatory law firms looking to take advantage of the pandemic with “baseless accusations and frivolous lawsuits.”

“In vetoing House Bill 1737, Gov. Wolf has bypassed the concerns of long-term care providers and their workers, and instead sided with those attorneys who seek to wreak havoc on the healthcare heroes charged with protecting our loved ones,” Shamberg said. 

Shamberg added that shortages of personal protective equipment and testing supplies, coupled with ever-changing guidance from state and federal regulatory agencies, “created an environment ripe for opportunistic legal action directly related to this emergency.”

At least a dozen states have adopted immunity for businesses to limit their exposure to COVID-19-related lawsuits. They include Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming.