By Beth Finkel | July 24, 2020

New York State lawmakers took a step this week toward partially righting the wrong they slipped into the state budget in April. They passed a bill to repeal legal immunity for nursing homes – but only for non-COVID-related care, and only going forward.

AARP is calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign the bill, which is on his desk – on the condition that the legislature finish the job by repealing immunity fully and retroactively.

While the state never should have let nursing homes and adult care facilities off the legal hook for abuse, neglect and substandard care in the first place, it’s good that lawmakers don’t want to continue denying New Yorkers their basic American right to seek redress in our courts.

And the bill they passed should incentivize nursing homes and adult care facilities to do the right thing.

Few saw the magnitude of this pandemic coming and the unprecedented challenges nursing homes would face. The ensuing carnage in nursing homes – which left our mothers, fathers, spouses, grandparents, siblings and other loved ones to die alone in so many cases – should never be allowed to happen again.

But what about the more than 6,300 families in New York who lost a loved one to COVID-19 in a nursing home? And what about those who lose loved ones in nursing homes to COVID in the future?

What about their rights?

They, more than anyone, faced and continue to face an unspeakable situation, as the state suspended most nursing home inspections and in-person visits by long-term care ombudsmen and family members. The situation is improving, but far too few eyes are observing what’s going on in these facilities.

Add to that the fact that many nursing home residents are unable to advocate for themselves and the deck is truly stacked against them.

Pursuing a nursing home neglect or abuse case in court is a difficult undertaking for a resident or family member. Nobody brings that kind of lawsuit lightly. It is always an option of last resort, but it must remain an option.

And nursing homes and other long term care facilities should know they will continue to be held responsible for providing the level of quality care that is required of them and for which they are being compensated. This also incentivizes facilities to self-correct by addressing problems to improve care.

AARP has fought for the rights of nursing home residents since our founding over 60 years ago to ensure their health, safety, quality of care, and quality of life. We hope Governor Cuomo joins us in this ongoing fight.

Beth Finkel is AARP New York State Director