When observers say effects of the pandemic will be felt for years, many will first think about long-COVID.

From brain fog to breathing troubles to any number of still possibly unrealized maladies, the issues are real, and may grow in the years ahead. This is an open book, and likely will be for generations to come.

But there’s at least one other way that COVID-19 may vex providers for years: Lawsuits.

Long-term care operators have known since long before COVID, that litigation can pop up almost any time while a filing window is still open. The pandemic promises to keep that stream flowing more than ever.

A headline out of Massachusetts Thursday is a good reminder of this. That state’s attorney general announced that the commonwealth is suing Sea View Retreat in Rowley and its owner for alleged infection control failures during the early days of the pandemic.

That would be when all contact was discouraged among the general public. There was a public run on toilet paper, and many skilled nursing employees were being encouraged to make their own masks because of low or non-existent PPE levels.

Those were much more frantic times than today. Even fully respectable operators resorted to doing things like dropping off cash payments to anonymous recipients in parking lots, who distributed their prized PPE like black marketers. Yes, that was just two years ago.

So the lawsuit that was announced Thursday understandably sent a chill through many of the providers who saw it. Because who wasn’t improvising PPE and certain infection control measures in some way in those early, angstful days?

The Massachusetts charges are for allegedly failing to isolate infected residents and implement numerous other COVID-19 control and prevention procedures. Alleged infractions involve state and federal laws, rules and regulations. At least one death was cited.

State’s Attorney Maura Healey filed the charges May 27 against Sea View Retreat and its owner, Stephen Comley II, who has had a colorful past with authorities.

If there’s any relief for stressed out operators, this was not a filing against any random provider suspected of struggling with pandemic carnage. An investigation kicked off in July 2020 after complaints about Sea View were filed with the state health department.

Then in October 2021, Comley threatened to shut down the 140-bed facility rather than comply with a COVID-19 staff vaccine mandate.

Two months later, resident transfers were full steam ahead as government reimbursements were halted. Next, in February of this year, Comley would not allow inspectors into Sea View, an impasse solved by a court order. But then officials were not allowed past the entryway, according to local news reports at the time.

Officials have since noted that there is no resident activity at the building, which Comley’s family founded in 1954. But it’s still part of an active corporation, authorities said. That has them intrigued, and in the lawsuit-filing mood.

A few lessons are clear from all of this. 

First, the threat of lawsuits is going to remain vivid for quite a while, and the government certainly won’t be the only one filing them. We’ve seen plenty of civil suits around the country. Get ready.

Second, it doesn’t pay to play chicken with the government. Remember: It controls virtually all the purse strings — and it isn’t afraid to cut them.

And third: Follow your infection control protocols. If you, or they, aren’t up to snuff, get on it.

It’s taken this long to mention the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services for the first time in this column, but it doesn’t mean it won’t be first word when it comes to infection control compliance and enforcement. Based on some saber-rattling the agency has done in recent months, on the contrary.

James M. Berklan is executive editor of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.

Opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News columns are not necessarily those of McKnight’s.