The Wrong Way to Handle a Pandemic

CORPORATE ACCOUNTABILITY, NOT IMMUNITY

Welcome to the latest edition of “Corporate Accountability, Not Immunity,” a daily tipsheet highlighting key news and important facts on why Congress should not give corporations legal immunity from coronavirus-related harms to workers, consumers, patients and the public. Also refer to our tipsheet on misleading claims from industry groups and conservative lawmakers. Please send tips, feedback and questions to David Rosen at drosen@citizen.org.

NURSING HOMES UNLAWFULLY EJECTING OLDER, DISABLED RESIDENTS: More than 51,000 residents and employees of nursing homes and long-term care facilities have died in the coronavirus pandemic, accounting for more than 40% of the total death toll in the United States. Now, some nursing homes are kicking out older, disabled residents and shunting them to homeless shelters and motels that lack the means to provide them adequate care. Many of these “involuntary discharges” appear to violate federal rules requiring nursing homes to place residents in safe locations and give them at least 30 days’ notice before forcing them to leave. Nursing homes have a financial incentive to evict Medicaid patients in favor of those who pay through private insurance or Medicare, which reimburses nursing homes at a much higher rate. At a time when nursing homes are not allowing visitors, 15 state-funded ombudsmen told The New York Times that some nursing homes appear to be taking advantage of the lack of scrutiny to evict vulnerable residents. This situation is yet another reminder that nursing homes should not be immune from liability.

OSHA IS UNDERSTAFFED, UNDERFUNDED AND UNRESPONSIVE: The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) lax enforcement amid the pandemic is leaving workers at risk – a key reason workers need to be able to hold employers accountable in court. OSHA has declined to enact an emergency safety standard for health care facilities. Moreover, OSHA has taken only one enforcement action related to COVID-19 – issuing a citation to one Georgia nursing home for failure to report employee hospitalizations within 24 hours. Even before the pandemic, OSHA under the Trump administration was failing to ensure that employers provide a workplace free from hazards likely to harm employees. Attrition during the Trump administration has been extreme: The 862 inspectors OSHA had at the start of 2020 was the lowest number on record since 1975, according to the National Employment Law Project. An AFL-CIO report found that it would take 165 years for OSHA to inspect every worksite even once, given its current resources.

INFECTIONS SPIKE AMONG LATINO POPULATION: Although the African American community still suffers the highest overall death rate from the novel coronavirus, COVID-19 infections have increased rapidly among Latinos in the past two months. Latinos make up a disproportionate share of the cases in nearly every state – more than four times higher than their share of the population in some states. Doctors and public health officials are alarmed by the rise in hospitalizations and by their observations that many Latino patients are seeking care late after trying to battle the virus alone and arriving in worse condition compared to other patients. People of color are at greater risk because they frequently have more underlying health problems, less access to health care and are overrepresented among frontline, essential workers who are more likely to be exposed to the coronavirus. Only 16% of Latinos nationwide can telework. They would be disproportionately harmed if Congress were to give businesses legal immunity from coronavirus-related lawsuits.