Image of male nurse pushing senior woman in a wheelchair in nursing facility

Nursing home operators in Connecticut are at an increased risk of being hit with coronavirus-related lawsuits after Gov. Ned Lamont (D) signaled the state would be ending protections for providers. Providers around the country are nervously watching to see if they will see similar action in their respective states.

Lamont on Monday issued an executive order that announced plans to end legal immunity for healthcare facilities, which includes nursing homes. He first announced the protections in April as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and extended them through November and then again through Tuesday. The protections expire March 1. 

Lamont justified the move by saying that COVID hit the state hard at the start of the pandemic, and that at the time, providers and leaders were just “trying to keep up with something we were learning about every day.” 

“We thought there was too much changing, too much uncertainty in terms of what was going on in COVID back during the spring. That’s not the case in February. It’s a different situation, so people should be held accountable,” he said on Monday. 

While consumer advocates applauded the governor’s decision, one state operator decried the move and said providers “are now going to see lawsuits blaming nursing home providers for people who die of COVID when nursing homes did nothing wrong.”

“This is a virus that attacks the people that we care for more than anyone else. It’s not beneficial to now try and blame someone, because there is no one to blame,” Paul Liistro, CEO and owner of multiple long-term care facilities in the state, told the CT Mirror.

“This is the worst virus I have seen in my life, and now someone can sue me for malfeasance or claim I had poor infection control, as if that somehow would have stopped it,” he said. 

Liistro also noted providers “don’t win when [they] are sued, [they] settle — and then [their] insurance goes up.” 

Providers have lobbied hard for liability protections for nursing homes during the public health crisis, and more than 20 states, including New York and New Jersey, have enacted some type of legal cover for nursing homes because of it. It’s also been a key sticking point among federal lawmakers during coronavirus relief package talks.