Families plan to sue Florida nursing homes alleging negligence amid virus outbreak

Several families plan to sue two Florida nursing home chains accusing the facilities of falling to protect its residents amid the coronavirus outbreak, which is proportionately more severe among those other 65 and with prior health conditions.

Orlando-based law firm Morgan & Morgan attorneys Matt Morgan and Alexander “Zander” Clem said Thursday in a video call with reporters the law firm is in the investigative phase with the intent to file a lawsuit against Suwannee Health Care Center and Opis Coquina Center on behalf of family members of residents who died due to COVID-19.

According to a Florida database of COVID-19 nursing home deaths and cases, 16 deaths have been reported at Opis Coquina Center in Ormond Beach and 18 have been reported at the Suwannee Health and Rehabilitation Center in Suwannee County.

The attorneys say their investigations show gross allegations of negligence on both nursing homes.

Clem estimates about two and a half months before they can file a lawsuit.

Law firm investigators have spoken to former staff members at the facilities who describe facilities not reporting when residents had symptoms for COVID-19 or attempting to mask fevers using Tylenol or ice, on orders from management.

Workers were told they couldn’t get the novel coronavirus from working with patients who have the virus, Clem said.

“It wasn’t just bad for the residents but the staff as well,” Clem said, adding some workers quit due to the conditions.

Morgan said nursing homes in Florida and across the U.S. have been given immunity from some legal action due to special interest groups lobbying for legislation to protect them, making it difficult to seek justice for families.

Clem explained most law makers don’t even know when they are voting on legislation that includes budget line items that provide immunity to nursing homes.

Brian Lee, the executive director of Families for Better Care, a group that advocates for nursing home facilities. The group believes this is not the right time for the lawsuit.

“It should be all hands on deck to protect and preserve the lives of our loved ones who are living in these homes. The judicial merits are one hand or the other, whichever side you’re on, could happen after we get past this pandemic. There are just too many lives being lost at this moment and there are real needs that have to be met," Lee said.

Before COVID-19, 400,000 people a year die of infections they receive in long-term car facilities, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention numbers.

“Now, superimpose COVID on top of that and you get the results we have,” Morgan said.

The nursing homes have 75 days to evaluate the allegations found during the investigation but after that “these allegations need to be proven in a court of law,” Morgan said.

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