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Florida health care workers ask for immunity from coronavirus lawsuits

Would it help healthcare workers taking care of patients? Or would it take away the rights of those diagnosed?

Florida's largest advocacy group for long-term health care workers and the elderly is asking the governor to give their workers immunity from coronavirus lawsuits.

This would not apply to any intentional criminal misconduct or negligence, but other advocates say they're stunned by the request from the Florida Health Care Association

The conflict: Would legal immunity for health care workers help people like the parents and grandparents who have gotten sick from the coronavirus at nursing homes or would it take away their rights?

The FHCA's letter to the governor wants nursing homes, hospitals, and other health care providers to have more legal protections during the pandemic. The letter states they want "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."

The way FHCA Communications Director Kristen Knapp puts it, caregivers would "not have to worry about being sued for making tough decisions while trying to comply with government directives."

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Another advocate for nursing home residents sees it differently.

"I was stunned, taken aback by this request," said Brian Lee, executive director of Families For Better Care.

Immunity would not apply to criminal misconduct or negligence. Immunity would be applied for an "act, omission, or decision" that's the result of a resource or staffing shortage, according to the FHCA letter.

Lee believes this would take away nursing home residents' rights.

"This would be cataclysmic to be able to deprive victimized residents who suffered abuse or neglect during this crisis," he said. "When things could've been done, more prevention, keep them alive, to take away their right to have access to the courts. It's grossly unfair to nursing home residents. Why are we preying upon the elderly?"

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Lee also says there is not enough accountability at nursing homes.

"We haven't really done enough to help the nursing home industry during these outbreaks," he said.

Knapp says in an email to First Coast News that many nursing homes took quick action against the outbreak, limiting visitation and doing social distancing guidelines ahead of the guidelines.

Camellia at Deerwood was the first assisted living center First Coast News learned about in Duval County where people got sick from the coronavirus; however, this was not information given by the health department. 

Health departments don't say which assisted living facilities have people who are sick with the coronavirus and Lee believes that should change too.

There's no word yet on what the governor plans to do with the FHCA's request.