Michigan lawmakers want to make hospitals, doctors immune from lawsuits during pandemic

Posted at 6:02 PM, May 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-13 22:48:45-04

LANSING (WXYZ) — Lawmakers in Lansing are debating giving doctors and hospitals broad immunity when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic.

However, nurses and legal experts say the proposed law will do more harm than good, especially when it comes to personal protection equipment.

There was a debate in Lansing Wednesday over a bill that would grant doctors and hospitals immunity from lawsuits or criminal prosecution during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are simply providing certainty that some of our healthcare professionals have been asking for,” said Kim Wadaga, a staff member who works for State Senator Michael MacDonald.

Senate Bill 899 is sponsored by the Republican senator who’s from Macomb County. MacDonald wasn’t available to testify Wednesday due to the birth of a baby.

The bill already passed the Senate, and today the House Judiciary Committee debated the proposed rules that would prevent families from filing lawsuits over questionable COVID-19 care.

It would also protect hospitals from lawsuits for not providing patients or employees with enough personal protection equipment.

“My concern is, this bill as drafted essentially relieves hospitals from any liability for failure to protect their workers with personal protection equipment,” said Rep. David LaGrand (D-Grand Rapids). “I’m having a hard time seeing how a bill which provides a blanket excuse for not taking reasonable actions can be a reasonable piece of legislation. There’s a reason we have civil liability, to hold people to reasonable standard of care.”

Rep. Brian K. Elder added that the bill is opposed by labor organizations.

"You’ve said several times that you’ve taken input from medical professionals, but I see that this bill is opposed by the Michigan Nurses Association, the SEIU and several other labor organizations that represent the people who work at hospitals," asked Rep. Brian K. Elder (D-Bay City) of Wadaga during testimony Wednesday. "Did your employer speak to any of these groups, and if so why are they opposed to the bill?”

Wadaga responding saying, “Well, we have taken all view points into account and I think that you’ll find the great number of medical professional groups are supportive.”

Michigan State Medical Society Board member and Beaumont Dr. Paul Bozyk testified that doctors need immunity not just for COVID-19 patient treatment, but also for their regular patients too.

“Physicians need to be able to see their patients, communicate with their patients," Dr. Bozyk said. "They need to be protected from liability that could arise as the result of them being afraid of violating a stay at home order, despite needing medical care."

“Why vote yes on a bill that does nothing but protect bad actors,” said Donna MacKenzie, Michigan Association for Justice President-Elect.

Mackenzie says health care workers already have significant protection from lawsuits with Gov. Whitmer’s executive order that grants some immunity during Michigan’s state of emergency and disaster declaration.

MacKenzie called the proposed legislation that would extend and expand that immunity until Sept. 30 a major overreach.

“What we saw today was a reach for even more immunity and they wanted immunity for not only negligent acts, and not only intentional acts – but also criminal acts," MacKenzie said. "And that goes way too far, and that does not do anything to protect our health care workers."

MacKenzie says the proposed law would also mean non-COVID-19 patients, including expectant moms, would lose the ability to hold doctors and hospitals accountable.

“That would also mean that any pregnant mother who goes to the hospital to deliver a baby, and is treated in a negligent way that causes the baby to have a life long disability – she would not be able to seek justice for her baby,” MacKenzie said.

Sen. MacDonald said in a statement about his proposed legislation:

“Front-line health care workers in Macomb and across our state have risked their lives and made huge sacrifices to help provide critical care during the COVID-19 public health crisis. In the face of a global fight against a virus with no known cure, our medical professionals have made incredibly difficult decisions and used innovative approaches to save lives. They should not have to worry about possible lawsuits as they decide how best to treat a patient. If enacted into law, this legislation would ensure that Michigan health care workers have the necessary legal protections to enable them to focus their time and energy on providing the best care possible for patients battling the coronavirus.”

The Michigan Nurses Association opposes this bill, especially regarding the immunity for lack of PPE.

“While the sponsor no doubt had good intentions, unfortunately the legislation lets health care employers off the hook for wrongdoing toward their employees. Nurses and other frontline workers must have recourse to hold employers accountable, and this legislation curbs that much too sharply,” said Jamie Brown, RN, a critical care nurse who is taking care of COVID patients and the president of the Michigan Nurses Association.

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