John O’Connor

 So you thought the pandemic couldn’t possibly make things worse? Well then, you obviously underestimated the plaintiffs’ bar.

To reprise a memorable catchphrase from “Poltergeist II,” they’re back.

“You should seek legal advice to see if you have a coronavirus malpractice lawsuit.” So concludes a new ad from Brown, Moore & Associates PLLC. It’s a safe bet that similar law firm come-ons will soon be appearing in media outlets near you.

Let’s face it: Skilled care facilities will be inviting lawsuit targets during the weeks, months and possibly even years to come. It’s not terribly difficult to see why.

Tragically, residents and caregivers have died because of COVID-19 — and that terrible reality continues. Others are dealing with related medical consequences in various shapes and sizes. Employees are being asked to work crazy hours to compensate for depleted staff. These and other realities are creating ideal conditions for a lawsuit banquet. Care to guess who’s for dinner?

Skilled care operators need pay little attention to the dangerous horsemen of the Apocalypse. It’s the guy in the business suit toting an armful of legal briefs they should truly fear.

Still, all is not lost.

In March, Congress provided liability protection for volunteers performing healthcare-related tasks. In addition, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) has introduced legislation shielding healthcare workers for testing or treating coronavirus patients, as the Wall Street Journal recently noted

Meanwhile, governors in a growing number of states — including Illinois, Michigan and New York — are using executive powers to keep trial lawyers at bay.

These actions all constitute a good start. But they hardly go far enough.

What’s really needed is a federal law giving COVID-19 blanket protection to all providers, especially those in skilled care and other post-acute settings. And just so the measure does not become a universal Get Out of Jail card, exceptions could — and should — be made when gross negligence is suspected.

Thanks to the pandemic, long-term care operators are staring down a historically miserable challenge. The last thing they need right now is a swarm of attorneys determined to make things even more difficult.

John O’Connor is Editorial Director for McKnight’s