Florida speeds up with Covid-19 protections for nursing homes – without any cases

In this file photo from Jan. 12, 2021, residents wait to be cleared after receiving Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at The Palace assisted living facility in Coral Gables, Fla. Lynne Sladky, dossier / AP

TALLAHASSEE – This week, Florida’s Republican-led legislature moved forward with a plan to protect the state’s nursing home industry from a feared onslaught of Covid-19 lawsuits, even though no actual lawsuit appears to have been filed, more than a year after the pandemic hit the state.

The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration is usually notified when a nursing home receives a letter of “intent to sue” from a plaintiff, but at this time the agency does not. received no notification due to Covid-19.

“While the Agency may be notified when a nursing home receives a letter of ‘intent to sue’ from a complainant, at this time we have not received any notices of litigation filed against the nursing homes. nurses due to COVID-19, “wrote AHCA spokeswoman Tiffany Vause. in an email.

Two lawyers who are in the early stages of filing dozens of nursing home lawsuits said they were waiting to see how the legislative dust settles in May.

FL SB74 (21R) in the Senate and FL_HB7005 in the House would both offer broad protections to Florida’s healthcare sector as the state endured the pandemic that has killed more than 31,000 residents. Committees from both chambers each approved similar measures this week. Both bills require only one additional sitting in committee before they can be debated.

A lingering question amid debates over the two bills is how many cases exist. The nursing home industry, which includes assisted living facilities, has supported the plans. Orlando attorney Robin Khanal told the Senate Health Policy Committee in a meeting Wednesday that he oversees 65 lawsuits on behalf of his firm, Quintairos, Prieto, Wood & Boyer, PA

The difference between Khanal’s cases and the response of no AHCA cases was the state law stage. The agency was not informed of a case until it was officially filed, and Khanal’s affairs were in the “presuit” phase, according to the law.

Khanal said in an interview Thursday that the preliminary phase includes an initial investigation, usually a letter from a lawyer. He is aware of several other cases filed by lawyers awaiting action from the Legislature and Governor Ron DeSantis.

“A lot of people are waiting to see what happens here,” Khanal said.

The dozens of cases raised by lawyers at previous legislative committee meetings are not really ready for prime time, and many are in the investigation phase to see if there are any allegations. These claims are dealt with through a statutory arbitration process which must be exhausted before a claim is brought to court. Many of them will not become cases.

Two Covid-related cases still at the investigative stage were filed by Tampa lawyer Bennie Lazzara Jr., on behalf of the families of two residents of the Pinellas County nursing home who died during the Covid pandemic. 19.

“My clients would be devastated to just be stuck on something they deserve,” Lazzara said in an interview Thursday.

A Florida legislative analysis of a 2011 nursing home bill included a 10-year breakdown of the legal notifications the AHCA has received since state lawmakers approved a legal protection measure for it. industry in 2001. When POLITICO requested the same information on Covid -19 related claims, AHCA’s Vause said such a claim did not exist.

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