State lawmakers are pushing for a full roll back of immunity protections for nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. While families would have more legal recourse, health care officials worry about the financial impact. 

Last year, state lawmakers granted a broad immunity provision for nursing homes, already dealing with the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. Richard Mollot of the Long Term Care Community Coalition says this removed a significant check on nursing home management. 

“Just when residents needed protections most, just when they needed to know the quality was going to be there, the services were going to be there,” Mollot said. “We essentially deserted them.”

The Legislature weeks later would end that immunity, but it was not retroactive to the spring of 2020 when many fatalities during the pandemic occurred in nursing homes. Now lawmakers are pushing for a full rollback of the immunity. 

“To keep nursing homes in line it really comes to legal action as the one leverage point we have to get them to comply with minimum standards of care,” Mollot said. 

But Stephen Hanse of the New York Health Facilities Association says the immunity provision made sense for nursing homes as they struggled to manage the crisis and its effect on residents. 

“It was clear the Department of Health and the state was concerned all of the changing guidances and policies and procedures would cause conflicts as they were constantly changing,” Hanse said. 

Nursing homes, meanwhile, already face significant financial challenges in the state. Hanse pointed to a relatively low Medicaid reimbursement rate.  

“While the state’s underfunding nursing homes and then they’re subject to unscrupulous lawsuits, it just creates a situation that in many instances is untenable for nursing homes to continue to operate,” Hanse said. 

Governor Cuomo’s handling of nursing homes during the pandemic as well as the reporting of deaths is now the subject of a federal investigation.