Eye on Governor Over Whether to Grant Immunity to Senior Care Facilities

The decision could keep many cases against nursing homes and assisted living facilities out of the courtroom.

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Elizabeth Nazarett says she hasn’t seen her mother, Julieta, in over a month. 

“I cannot see her, she cannot see me,” Nazarett said, referring to the visitors’ restrictions at her mother’s nursing home in Hollywood. “The two times I have heard her voice is (to say) I miss you, I miss you.”

Elizabeth Nazarett
Julieta Rodriguez, a nursing home resident, pictured with her daughter, grandchild and great-grandchildren.

Nazarett is one of thousands of Floridians worried about their loved ones - isolated in long-term care facilities.

“It’s not only me. It’s other people. They cannot get in touch with their mothers, their fathers,” she said adding the facility has only called her twice to update her about her mother’s condition. “It’s really really sad.”

Nazarett says the nursing home has not provided information about COVID-19 cases inside. She heard about a death related to the virus, but not from the facility.

“As a family member, as a relative, we have the right to know,” Nazarett said. “We need to know what’s going on.”

It’s a common concern NBC 6 Investigators have heard from workers and families of senior residents across South Florida.

According to the Florida Department of Health most recent count, there are more than 1,500 staff or residents in long-term care facilities with the coronavirus.

In South Florida alone, 80 deaths have been reported involving these facilities: 33 in Miami-Dade, 23 in Broward and 24 in Palm Beach. 

Florida Department of Health

The Florida Healthcare Association, a large trade group for long-term care providers, sent a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis asking for immunity "from any liability, civil or criminal, for any harm or damages alleged to have been sustained as a result of an act or omission in the course of arranging for or providing health care services.”

In an interview with NBC 6 Investigators, Kristen Knapp, an FHCA spokeswoman, defended the decision. 

“COVID-19 has required our facilities to make some significantly tough decisions,” Knapp said, adding it’s not about defending bad actors but protecting members from frivolous lawsuits. 

“If there is gross negligence or intentional harm. We’re not asking for that to be immune,” Knapp said. 

William Dean, an attorney who represents families in lawsuits against long-term care facilities, is concerned about the potential impact of the trade group’s request. 

“The minute the nursing home industry asks for protection and immunity, the next thing you know, the cruises will ask, the hospitals will ask, all these different entities are going to ask for immunity,” Dean said.

The governor’s role isn’t to grant immunity. The courts are for that.

William Dean

Dean says problems at nursing homes, from staff shortages to safety issues, have been ongoing for years and the coronavirus pandemic has served to uncover them.

“I’ve been doing this for 25 years and every time I prosecute a nursing home case, the employees are horrible, the records are horrible, the fact patterns are horrible,” Dean said. 

Attorneys have to wait 75 days to file a lawsuit against senior care providers, after they give them notice. Therefore, this immunity protection could stop a potential lawsuit against an assisted living facility where multiple residents died after contracting the virus.

Nazarrett says her mother has been placed in isolation - after returning from her second hospitalization in the past month. According to her, she has not been tested for the virus. 

“I know she is not going to get better,” Nazarett said in tears. “I just hope that we can see each other one more time, so I can hug her, I can kiss her, making her feel she is not alone anymore.”

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