On Wednesday (March 31), members of the Texas Legislature’s Senate Business & Commerce Committee approved a version of Senate Bill 6, a liability-immunity measure that would gut needed protections for Texas nursing home residents. The version of the bill now headed to the full Senate will, if enacted, strip residents’ ability to hold long-term care facilities accountable for negligent care.
The disappointing and unnecessary committee action piles onto the COVID-19 crisis that has devastated residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Nearly one in four COVID-19 deaths in Texas have occurred in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, accounting for more than 10,000 COVID-related deaths.
Wednesday’s committee action is in sharp contrast to positive steps taken this session by the Legislature in advancing various other bills that would improve nursing home care and quality. The move also backs away from an agreement with AARP Texas that would have excluded chronic bad actors from the bill’s protections.
“AARP is fighting to protect the rights of nursing home residents and their families, including their ability to hold long-term care facilities accountable for harm, neglect, and abuse through the courts,” said AARP Texas Director Tina Tran. “Legal recourse is often an option of last resort and lawsuits are not a step taken lightly.
“In its current form, Senate Bill 6 is a dangerous proposal, and I am deeply disappointed that the Senate Business & Commerce Committee advanced Wednesday,” Tran said. “AARP Texas believes any potential immunity to nursing home and assisted living providers is counter to the goal of serving residents and families during this difficult time. It is already difficult to gather evidence and support a case against one of these providers, and Texans must retain this right to seek redress should they choose to do so. “Now is not the time to let nursing homes off the hook for abuse, neglect, and even death,” Tran continued. “Now is not the time to strip away the rights of residents of long-term care facilities.”
Tran noted that, during the pandemic, long-term care facility residents have been isolated from visitors.
“Residents of long-term care facilities are arguably the most vulnerable people during the pandemic,” she said. “They were isolated from loved ones and family caregivers, regular inspections and complaint investigations were halted for many months, and many of them are unable to speak or move or advocate for themselves. It is residents who deserve the protection here, not facilities with bad track records.”
The advancement of Senate Bill 6 comes in the wake of generous payments by the state and federal government to Texas nursing facilities during the pandemic. By AARP Texas’ account, nursing facilities received $1.5 billion in federal provider relief funds, as well as a Medicaid rate bump of $19.63 per Medicaid client per day since April 2020, in addition to the $1.1 billion in special “QIPP” funds made available to nursing facilities.
In spite of this significant public investment, Senate Bill 6 gives nursing facilities a pass when residents or their family bring a claim of neglect.