Every person is responsible for themselves and their actions or their failure to act. However, in a society, every person also has a duty, an obligation, to act (or not act) in a way which is responsible for others. This is why we as a society have laws. The Laws are the Rules to live by; if you break or disobey those rules, you can hurt yourself and others around you. For example, we stop at red lights. We punish those who do not. If a red light “runner” causes a crash or hits a pedestrian, we can hold that “runner” responsible for the harm that results from his lack of responsibility – his carelessness and negligence – in a courtroom.
Recently, some states including New Jersey and New York, and to an extent Pennsylvania, have granted “immunity” to Health Care providers and facilities for anything related to COVID-19 care and treatment. This means that nursing homes, hospitals and the people that work in them are not responsible for their actions or failure to act if injury or death is in any way related to this pandemic.
Now, at first, you might think this is a good idea. All day, we see stories of heroes and we extend our best wishes to those who are in front of this crisis, caring for those who need it to the best of their ability. No one, no lawyer, wants to see a healer, doing the work of the angels, being sued for those efforts in a time of crisis.
But where do we draw the line? And what does it mean for someone to be immune from virus related activity?
Let’s say your beloved Aunt is living in a nursing home and needs assistance for her simple daily activities. She has the COVID-19 virus. While she is escorting Auntie to the bathroom, the Aide decides to check her text messages to see if her boyfriend is going to pick up dinner. Auntie falls and breaks her hip. Are the aide and the corporation that owns the nursing home immune, do they have no responsibility for Auntie’s harm? Same facts, but Auntie does not have COVID-19. Can the owners say “we are so shorthanded and understaffed because of the virus, therefore we are still immune?
Should any corporation taking in millions of dollars, most often Medicare or Medicaid money, to care for our most vulnerable loved ones have no responsibility for carelessness, lack of preparation or unsafe practices? The health and safety of our loved ones should be more important than profits.
Recently, certain government leaders, well aware of the horrible number of deaths in nursing homes, want to make even more corporations and providers immune. Some even insist that this sort of blanket immunity be part of any more financial help package to the 40 million Americans who are out of work as a result of this pandemic.
Years ago, at a Hearing in the Pennsylvania Legislature on a proposed Bill to make certain coaches immune, a man who looked like a football player wearing a team jacket covered with sports badges came forward to testify in that room full of Suits. He began his remarks by saying that he owned a pizza place, had many kids and that he had coached all of them in every sport there was in their small town. His testimony was short and sweet: ” I don’t want my kids playing for any coach who is not responsible for his actions”. The Bill died right there.
We must demand no less for our loved ones. Please let your Congressmen and Senators how you feel about immunity.