Senate File 2338 is an appalling piece of legislation that was passed by the Iowa Legislature on June 10.
The bill rewards those long-term care facilities that have failed to adequately care for and serve vulnerable Iowans during the COVID-19 crisis by giving them immunity for actions they did or did not take that resulted in injury or death.
We urge the Governor to veto it.
Why? Because of the process used, and because of the policy it contains.
First, the unacceptable process:
• The bill was introduced in the final days of the legislative session as a surprise to even those who pay close attention to what the legislature is doing.
• It was sponsored by special interests that used their clout to round up the votes needed before the bill was even debated.
• Most citizens of Iowa had no idea what the bill was about, were unaware that it would be seriously considered, and were given no opportunity for meaningful input.
• Both the Iowa House and Senate chose to debate this bill late in the evening, when few Iowans were paying attention.
In short, the process used was an affront to Iowans who care deeply about ensuring that the people they elect serve them in a transparent manner, and give them opportunity to have some influence over what gets done.
By doing so, they’ve done a disservice to the people they are elected to serve.
Second, the contents of the bill:
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The blanket granting of immunity to all long-term care facilities is built on the flawed premise that each and every one of them is a high quality facility providing high quality care. That is simply not true.
There are many good facilities in Iowa, and sadly, there are some that are not.
As evidence, one need only look at the federal government’s nursing home compare tool at Medicare.gov, the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals website at dia.iowa.gov, or talk to the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman’s Office at 866-236-1430 about the complaints they receive from long-term care residents.
Many of the facilities that have failed to provide adequate care to residents during the pandemic failed to do so, not because of the pandemic, but because of decisions that led to poor practices long before COVID-19 entered Iowa.
Some facilities years ago made intentional decisions to cut corners and understaff their facilities and underpay and under-train their employees in order to maximize profit. They gave minimal attention to infection control procedures as simple as proper hand-washing and the use of gloves and masks.
All these decisions contributed to their inability to properly and safely serve residents — and to control the spread of infection.
A May, 2020 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) documents the long-term nature of infection control problems in the nation’s nursing homes. The report’s title says it all — Infection Control Procedures Were Widespread and Persistent in Nursing Homes Prior to COVID-19 Pandemic.
Under normal conditions, residents of long-term care facilities have some safeguards to ensure they receive acceptable care. Families and friends can visit, and act as their advocates. In addition, residents have access to agencies of state government to voice their complaints and have them investigated on-site. During the pandemic, these protections were largely absent.
Senate File 2338 would issue a pass to poor performing facilities. It says that residents who were injured, or who died — WHO DIED — as a result of inadequate care by these facilities cannot hold them accountable for their failings. It tells residents and their loved ones that they will be denied an opportunity for their day in court.
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If the governor signs this bill into law, every Iowan should shudder when they think about a loved one, or themselves, needing long-term care, because of the clear message it sends: Iowa government, when push comes to shove, will put the interests of long-term care facility owners and operators ahead of the needs and rights of the people they exist to serve — their residents.
Residents of long-term care facilities, and their loved ones, deserve better than this. All Iowans deserve better than this.
John and Terri Hale own The Hale Group, an Ankeny, Iowa consulting, advocacy and communication firm focused on older Iowans, Iowans with disabilities, and the caregivers who support them. firstname.lastname@example.org