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

Pennsylvania operators may soon be able to breathe a little easier after state lawmakers passed a proposal that would protect healthcare providers from pandemic-related lawsuits. 

The measure, House Bill 1737, was passed late last week in the state’s House and Senate. The legislation would protect long-term facilities, and other entities like schools and hospitals, from being held civilly liable from damages or personal injuries related to COVID-19 outcomes unless there’s “clear and convincing evidence of gross negligence, recklessness, willful misconduct or intentional infliction of harm.”

It was not clear whether Gov. Tom Wolf (D) will sign the legislation as of production deadline. All House Democrats, along with five moderate Republicans, voted against the measure. 

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 during the pandemic. It’s also been a key sticking point among federal lawmakers during coronavirus relief package talks.

“Shortages of personal protective equipment and testing supplies, as well as ever-changing guidance from state and federal regulatory agencies, have created a particularly unfair environment ripe for opportunistic legal action directly related to this emergency,” explained Zach Shamberg, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, to local local media.

Resident advocates have been among the legislation’s critics, saying that it changes the standards for proving liability. 

“We’re especially concerned because courts are the last line of oversight during the pandemic, since nursing home inspectors and other oversight agencies haven’t been able to have eyes in facilities during much of the time since March,” said Pam Walz, a supervising lawyer at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia.