Capital Region lawyer ‘sitting on’ nursing home death cases, hoping for retroactive lift of legal immunity

State News

CAPITAL REGION, N.Y. (NEWS10) —  The pandemic executive order that gave some legal immunity to doctors and nurses serving on the frontlines expired in May, but a bill included in April’s state budget revived that shield. The new provisions extended even further to include nursing home corporate executives.

Though it was scaled back in August so nursing homes could once again be held liable in prosecutions regarding the care of non-COVID patients, E. Stuart Jones Jr., a medical malpractice lawyer in the Capital Region, says there are still a number of families coming to him for legal help that he is unable to assist because of the way the immunity provision stands now.

 “We have a number of cases that we are holding in the office, waiting to see what happens to the statute for immunization in the nursing homes. We have cases related to nursing home deaths, we have cases related to very severe consequences,” Jones told NEWS10, “we’re sitting on those waiting to see what the legislature does.”

Dr. Howard Zucker, New York State’s Health Commissioner, was pressed on the immunity provisions during a budget hearing recently. He said he supported the law at the time it was passed, but that necessary changes can be made to it now.

In a report on the state’s handling of nursing homes, Attorney General Letitia James suggested that the broad legal protections given to nursing homes during the pandemic could’ve contributed to a profits-over-people culture within care facilities. However, when this possibility was raised to Dr. Zucker during the hearing, he said it was a concern that he finds “offensive to all those who are working so hard on this pandemic.”

Jones’ view of legal immunity supports AG James’ criticisms in her report.

“It impacts both performance and economic judgment. Many of the nursing homes in New York are for-profit nursing homes, and when they have immunity, that is going to benefit them, because they can then cut staff, can reduce equipment,” Jones told NEWS10.

Assemblymember Ron Kim believes there could be a correlation between the state’s granting of such extensive legal immunity, and the decision to report COVID-19 deaths of nursing home patients in the way the state did, separating those who died in hospitals versus in the nursing home facilities. Kim told NEWS10 many of his colleagues didn’t even know the legal immunity was slipped into the budget.

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