It’s not every day that health care industry associations are all on the same page when it comes to legislative battles in Tallahassee. But the fight for legal liability protections from COVID-19 lawsuits has united them all, at least for now.
Holding a press conference at Centre Pointe Health & Rehabilitation in Tallahassee, Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and State Senator Jeff Brandes were joined by health care industry leaders in calling on the legislature to include COVID-19 liability protections for frontline healthcare workers in the midst of a lingering pandemic. The groups include the Florida Health Care Association (FHCA), Florida Hospital Association (FHA), Florida Medical Association (FMA) and Safety Net Hospital Alliance, who emphasized the need for COVID-19 liability protections during the 2021 Legislative Session.
“I was honored to join Senator Brandes today to advocate for vital COVID-19 liability protections for Florida’s health care workers. Since the pandemic began, our state’s health care and long-term care personnel have been on the frontlines, fighting to protect Floridians, especially our state’s most vulnerable population – our seniors,” said Patronis. “My top priority this legislative session is to encourage Legislators to pass meaningful liability protections that include our health care and long-term care communities, and I look forward to working alongside Senator Brandes on this critical issue.”
But not everyone shares Patronis’s views on the subject. Florida attorneys, especially, argue that granting legal immunity is a radical solution in search of a problem.
Others, like Orlando super lawyer John Morgan, blasted the proposal in an email to The Capitolist because he says it goes too far in granting sweeping protections to some health care providers that may not deserve it.
“Covid swept this country because nursing homes are filthy murder factories and have been for years,” Morgan wrote. “Half of all COVID deaths occurred there. So yeah, let’s give them immunity to keep killing our parents and grandparents. Sounds like a worthy project for the chamber of commerce.”
Despite Morgan’s concerns, most Republican lawmakers appear to be unified behind the push to limit health care provider liability.
Brandes, a St. Petersburg lawmaker, echoed the CFO’s sentiments, urging his colleagues to craft legislation that would protect “frontline heroes” from frivolous lawsuits.
“Health care heroes put themselves in harm’s way to serve others, and they need to be able to focus on this all-important job –- not worrying about being sued for providing unwavering care to others under extraordinarily difficult circumstances,” Sen. Brandes said. “I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Legislature to craft a liability package that protects these frontline heroes for the sacrifices they continue to make for the health of our citizens.”
“The heroes that have emerged from this pandemic are the hospital and health care professionals who have served on the frontlines, providing treatment and care to our family members and friend, ” said Mary Mayhew, President and CEO of the Florida Hospital Association. As Florida’s communities continue to brave the pandemic, it is imperative that there are liability protections in place to guard against unfounded lawsuits.”
The Florida Chamber also joined today’s press conference, following a poll they released last week that showed Floridians overwhelmingly supported COVID-19 liability protections for businesses, as well as the healthcare community.
“A recent Florida Chamber poll shows 78 percent of Floridians realize the brave work being done by healthcare professionals and want to make sure they are protected from unnecessary litigation from personal injury trial lawyers,” said Florida Chamber Vice President of Governmental Affairs Frank C. Walker. “The Florida Chamber applauds Senator Jeff Brandes for recognizing our healthcare heroes and is proud to join the fight to extend protections to all frontline employers and workers in the healthcare community to ensure they can continue saving lives without fear of facing frivolous lawsuits.”
Patronis, who also serves as the State Fire Marshal, has been one of the state’s most vocal advocates against COVID-19 lawsuits aimed at businesses and health care workers. Aside from his role in pushing for comprehensive legislation this session, Patronis has also been in the trenches in the fight against coronavirus. The CFO has requested that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provide utility workers with access to the COVID-19 vaccine before the 2021 hurricane season, and he has also led the charge to use Florida firefighters to assist with the state’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution.
Apart from traversing the state and making appearances at local businesses and hospitals, Patronis also released his guiding principles last month as a tool for state officials to use when crafting liability protection legislation for the upcoming legislative session.