Iowa Legislators Need to Take a Pause on Immunity Bill
Iowa Senate File 2338 is an appalling piece of legislation that should not be passed. If it is passed, the Governor should quickly veto it.
The bill rewards those long-term care facilities that have failed to adequately care for and serve vulnerable Iowans during the COVID-19 crisis by giving them immunity for actions they did or did not take that resulted in injury or death.
The language of the bill related to these facilities is built on the premise that each and every one of them is a high quality facility providing high quality care. That is simply not true. There are many good facilities in Iowa, and sadly, there are some that are not. As evidence, one need only look at the federal government’s nursing home compare tool at Medicare.gov, the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals website at dia.iowa.gov, or talk to the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman’s Office at 866-236-1430 about the complaints they receive from long-term care residents.
Many of the facilities that have failed to provide adequate care to residents during the pandemic failed to do so, not because of the pandemic, but because of decisions that led to poor practices long before COVID-19 entered Iowa.
Some facilities years ago made intentional decisions to operate with too few staff on duty; to skimp on needed training; to give minimal attention to the use of gloves or masks, to not isolate residents with infections; to not provide staff with needed sick leave benefits; to not require staff to have flu shots; etc.
All these decisions contributed to their inability to properly and safely serve residents – and to control the spread of infection.
A May, 2020 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) documents the long-term nature of infection control problems in nursing homes throughout the nation. The reports title says it all – Infection Control Procedures Were Widespread and Persistent in Nursing Homes Prior to COVID-19 Pandemic.
Senate File 2338 would issue a pass to these poor performing facilities. It says that residents who were injured, or who died – WHO DIED – as a result of inadequate care by these facilities cannot hold them accountable for their failings. It tells citizens and their loved ones that they will be denied an opportunity for their day in court.
If this bill becomes law, every Iowan should shudder when they think about a loved one, or themselves, needing long-term care, because of the clear message it sends – that Iowa government, when push comes to shove, will put the interests of long-term care facility owners and operators ahead of the needs and rights of the people they exist to serve – their residents.
Lawmakers have this bill on too-fast a track. The Iowa House of Representatives passed it at 11:00 P.M. Friday, June 5th with hardly any opportunity for meaningful debate, or for the public to weigh in -- or to even be aware of its existence. The Iowa Senate will take up the bill sometime during the week of June 8th. We urge them to slow down. Take a breath. Reflect on the damage this bill can, and will, cause.
Residents of long-term care facilities, and their loved ones, deserve better than this.