The push for protection in Missouri is part of nationwide campaign by nursing homes, which have been upended by the spread of COVID-19.

Gov. Mike Parson is signaling his support for a proposal that could shield nursing homes and long-term care facilities from lawsuits linked to the coronavirus response.

Under legislation awaiting debate in the Missouri House, healthcare providers who treat people with COVID-19 would not be liable for civil damages if something were to go wrong.

Rep. Dan Houx, R-Warrensburg, is sponsoring the provision, which is now contained in Senate Bill 662.

The language would not only apply to nursing homes, but all caregivers and first responders.

“During this unprecedented time we want to make sure the people on the front line are protected against liability,” Houx told the Post-Dispatch Tuesday.

The push for protection in Missouri is part of nationwide campaign by nursing homes, which have been upended by the spread of the virus.

The industry contends coronavirus was an unprecedented crisis and nursing homes should not be liable for events beyond their control, such as shortages of personal protective equipment and testing, shifting directives from authorities, and sicknesses that have decimated staffs.

Parson, who supports efforts to make it harder for individuals to sue businesses, said it’s a topic worthy of conversation in the Legislature’s final two weeks of their annual session.

GOV. MIKE PARSON

“The last thing we want is good people getting sued because they were trying to save people’s lives in unusual circumstances,” Parson said. “I think we’re really going to have to take a good look at that.”

At least 70 Missouri nursing homes in the St. Louis area have outbreaks of COVID-19, according to information collected by state health officials.

St. Louis County, the largest county in the state, had 46 nursing homes reporting at least two cases. There have been five possible COVID-19 deaths at the Parc Provence nursing home in Creve Coeur. The Manor nursing home in Eureka also has reported at least 29 cases.

At least 17 people with COVID-19 have died at Frontier Health & Rehabilitation. A family member also confirmed to the Post-Dispatch that one person with the virus died at Delmar Gardens in O’Fallon, Missouri.

At least 11 people have died and more than 30 have been infected at Grandview Healthcare Center in Washington.

Jefferson County’s one nursing home outbreak is Festus Manor Care Center, where at least 64 people have tested positive. 

Watchdogs, patient advocates and lawyers argue that immunity orders are misguided. At a time when the crisis is revealing chronic industry problems like staffing shortages and poor infection control, they say legal liability is the last safety net to keep facilities accountable.

“What you’re really looking at is an industry that always wanted immunity and now has the opportunity to ask for it under the cloak of saying, ‘Let’s protect our heroes,’” said Mike Dark, an attorney for California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform.

ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH

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