A series of legal protections granted during the COVID-19 pandemic to nursing homes and health care facilities as part of the state budget was partially rolled back on Monday under a bill largely supported by Democrats and signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The new law will largely reverse a measure that raised the standard at which individuals could file civil claims against nursing homes and health care facilities at the height of the virus.
Cuomo and the Legislature, as part of this year’s state budget in April, included a broad measure that provided blanket legal protections for nursing homes and health care facilities. They could still be sued, but only over gross negligence, misconduct, or intentional harm.
Several lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have since criticized that measure, including on Monday, during a public hearing on the state’s handling of nursing homes.
Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, a Democrat who represents part of the Bronx and Westchester County, criticized the measure because it retroactively implemented those protections, meaning they were written to cover the month before the law passed in April as well.
"If you were a New Yorkers who went to the doctor from March 7 to April 3rd, your rights were retroactively taken away from you,” Biaggi said.
Dr. Howard Zucker, commissioner of the state Department of Health, noted during the hearing that the law was part of the state budget, which is negotiated between Cuomo’s office and Democrats who lead both chambers of the Legislature.
The bill signed into law Monday largely rolls back the legal protections first provided to health care facilities in April. That means, for the most part, they will now be open to the same civil claims they faced before the pandemic.
But the new law will still provide liability protections for situations during which medical professionals and health care facilities, including nursing homes, are providing direct care “related to the diagnosis or treatment of COVID-19,” according to the legislation.
It was sponsored by Assemblyman Ron Kim and Sen. Luis Sepulveda, both Democrats from Queens and the Bronx, respectively.
Kim, in a statement, said he now intends to seek a retroactive limitation of the protections passed in April, meaning it would be like they never existed on such broad a scale. He said the law passed in April "was wrong."
"I thank the administration and its leadership for recognizing now that broad legal immunity was wrong, and that a narrower definition was needed," Kim said. "Now I intend to seek retroactive justice for the thousands of families whose loved ones died during this health crisis, so that the tragedies, suffering, and loss they have experienced will not be in vain."