On June 26, 2020, the Georgia Legislature passed the Georgia COVID-19 Pandemic Business Safety Act, which moves to protect businesses, healthcare providers and facilities (including nursing homes) from civil liability for damages arising from COVID-19.
This lawsuit immunity bill, which is expected to be signed by Governor Brian Kemp and become law, applies to all businesses and property owners in Georgia, unless the claimant can prove that the business, facility or individual showed “gross negligence, willful and wanton misconduct, reckless infliction of harm or intentional infliction of harm.”
Georgia is the 10th state to enact such legislation, and more states are moving to shielding businesses from liability. This Act will become effective whenever Gov. Kemp signs it into law or on August 7, 2020 (whichever comes first), and will apply to all causes of action until July 14, 2021.
As the novel coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) continues to spread across the country, it is altering nearly every aspect of society. Hundreds of thousands of individuals and families have been affected, and the pandemic is hitting nursing homes and senior care facilities especially hard.
In response to this ongoing crisis, Scholle Law — a respected Atlanta personal injury and accident law firm for over 20 years — is now taking nursing home injury and death cases resulting from COVID-19 in Georgia.
Latest Georgia nursing home COVID-19 statistics
Although things are changing on a daily basis amidst this rapidly evolving issue, we wanted to highlight some recent statistics to show just how serious this problem is.
As of June 9, 2020, the number of COVID-19 cases in Georgia stood at 51,898, with 2,180 deaths. Of Georgians testing positive for the virus, over half (58 percent) live in a nursing home or personal care home.
Additionally, of the 2,180 deaths, half of those have occurred in these facilities.
Across the state of Georgia, there are roughly 30,500 people living in nursing homes or personal care homes.
As of June 5, 2020, nearly 6,100 residents in Georgia had tested positive for COVID-19. This is nearly 20% of the total nursing home population — a much higher percentage of infected than the general population.
Of those who tested positive, 1,103 have tragically died of the virus and 2,840 residents have recovered. There are still 2,141 residents who are still ill with COVID.
In addition to the residents themselves, nearly 2,600 nursing home or personal care home staff have tested positive.
For the most up-to-date figures, consult the Georgia Department of Public Health’s long-term care facility COVID-19 report.
Georgia DPH COVID-19 Nursing Home Guidelines
According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, all care facilities in the state must adhere to the following guidelines or they may be held liable if a patient contracts COVID-19:
- Restrict all visitors and non-essential health care personnel, except for certain compassionate care situations, including end of life.
- Cancel communal dining and all group activities, both internal and external.
- Establish appropriate social distancing infrastructure for residents and staff, and promote frequent hand hygiene.
- Implement active screening of residents for symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath, chills, repeated shaking with chills, headache, sore throat, new loss of taste or smell, or muscle pain).
- Screen all staff at the beginning of their shift for fever and symptoms.
- Establish a mechanism so that staff who work in multiple locations are required to report their exposure to a COVID-19 case in other facilities and then follow guidelines for 14-day quarantine before returning to work.
- Reinforce adherence to infection prevention and control measures, including hand hygiene and selection of personal protective equipment (PPE).
- Consider implementing universal use of facemasks for HCP while in the facility. Although this is ideal, the availability of masks must be considered.
- Use Standard, Contact, and Droplet Precautions with eye protection when caring for residents with an undiagnosed respiratory infection, unless the suspected diagnosis requires Airborne Precautions (e.g., tuberculosis).
- Make sure that EPA-registered, hospital-grade disinfectants are available to allow for frequent cleaning of high-touch surfaces and shared resident-care equipment (https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-registration/list-n-disinfectants-use-against-sars-cov-2).
- Create a plan to cohort residents with symptoms of respiratory infection, including dedicating healthcare personnel to work only on affected units.
What should nursing homes do to protect their residents?
In the instance where a nursing home or personal care home has yet to have a confirmed COVID-19 case, there are some things caregivers should be doing to help reduce the chances of contraction. These include:
- Identifying and managing residents who fall ill.
- Considering limiting visitors and non-essential staff.
- Stockpiling supplies and other resources.
- Relaxing staff sick leave policies.
- Educate and train staff on new policies.
- Have plans in place to surge capacity of staffing, equipment, supplies and postmortem care in the event a facility has an outbreak.
Nursing homes are fighting for lawsuit immunity
In the midst of the battle nursing homes and personal care homes are engaged with to stop the spread of COVID-19, there is also a fight within the industry to gain legal immunity during the pandemic. Some states are even extending this immunity to include criminal and civil liability; however, exceptions would be made in instances of especially egregious treatment, including gross negligence.
According to the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care, 21 states (including Georgia, Arizona, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey and New York) have currently been granted immunity to healthcare providers in some form.
However, in some cases, nursing homes may not be included in these protections.
Talk to an Atlanta nursing home injury lawyer as soon as possible
Were you or a loved one exposed to coronavirus in a nursing home or senior care facility? Did your loved one pass away as a result?
At Scholle Law, we are dedicated to helping serve families who have lost loved ones in care homes from coronavirus (COVID-19) during this challenging time.
We are now accepting nursing home COVID-19 injury and death cases. If you or a loved one contracted COVID-19 while in a nursing home or personal care home and feel that it was due to negligence, contact us today for your free consultation.