By CBS4 Political Specialist Shaun Boyd

DENVER (CBS4) – Nursing homes could soon find themselves fighting not only coronavirus, but lawsuits related to their handling of the virus. They’re asking for legal protection, saying they’ve been put in an impossible situation.

(credit: CBS)

More than 170 people had already died in Colorado nursing homes by the time the state sent the Colorado National Guard to conduct mass testing. Doug Farmer, head of the Colorado Health Care Association, which represents the industry, said they’ve been begging for help for weeks.

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“Working in an environment where you don’t know who has the virus, and you don’t have adequate equipment to protect people, puts us in the most imperfect situation we could imagine,” said Farmer.

At least 15 states have passed laws with protections. Colorado could be next.

“Some attorneys will be out there saying, ‘hey we can make a quick dime on this’,” said state Sen. John Cooke.

(credit: CBS)

Cooke plans to bring a bill limiting civil, and possibly criminal, liability for nursing homes and hospitals.

“As long as they’re acting reasonable and under the proper guidelines,” said Cooke.

Employment attorney Laura Wolf said the law already protects employers who take reasonable measures.

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“We’re incentivizing employers at that point, essentially to cut corners,” said Wolf.

She said more protections for employers will mean less safety for everyone, and not just in nursing homes.

“Every single employer that is considered an essential employer and has essential employees is going to ask for the exact same type of limitation to their liability,” said Wolf.

But Farmer said, unlike meatpacking plants, for example, nursing homes have hundreds of pages of conflicting new rules and no option to close if they don’t have enough masks. Lawsuits, he says, will lead to bankruptcies.

“And that means a lack of access for people throughout the state,” Farmer explained.

Farmer said many insurers have started putting exclusions in their policies for anything COVID-19-related.

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According to the Colorado Sun, nearly 60 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in Colorado have been nursing home residents. The Colorado Trial Attorneys Association isn’t aware of any COVID-19-related lawsuits, but CBS4’s Shaun Boyd has learned the families of three of the JBS meatpacking plant employees who died have hired attorneys.

Shaun Boyd