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Ducey extends protections for healthcare workers, long-term care questions remain

Posted at 10:47 PM, Jan 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-05 00:47:47-05

On the last day of 2020, Governor Ducey extended his "Good Samaritan" Executive Order, which is designed to attract more medical staff and prevent them from being sued for levels of care or mistakes brought on by COVID-19 conditions.

When the executive order was first signed in April, many were supportive of the effort to protect frontline healthcare workers and coax retired, leery healthcare workers out of retirement.

Now the executive order and its protections are extended through March 31, 2021, and some critics think it will prevent, or at the very least discourage, lawsuits from being brought against long-term care facilities.

"People aren’t able to sue healthcare workers because he wants them to be able to come in and do their job," said Shannon Parys. "But this is not about suing wonderful caregivers and volunteers. This is about management...that instructed their employees not to wear PPE during a worldwide pandemic."

Parys lost her father Bill O'Brien in May, after he contracted COVID-19 at Westchester Senior Living in Tempe.

Westchester has since been sold to another company, but other relatives are also exploring lawsuits after their loved ones died at the facility early in the pandemic.

RELATED: Families plan to sue long-term care facilities after loved ones' deaths

"It’s going to need to be clarified in the courts. There is no question going to be litigated," said Jenna Bailey, with Bailey Law Firm.

Bailey is Parys' attorney and says she has roughly a dozen clients right now looking into lawsuits surrounding COVID-19 in long-term care facilities. Bailey though, does not believe the governor's executive order prevents lawsuits from being successful.

"I think it will discourage lawsuits because of that misunderstanding...people perceiving the order as protecting long-term care facilities," said Bailey. "But in my view the bar is raised to gross negligence for pursuing litigation against a provider that is treating COVID-19. So typically, that’s going to be in a hospital setting...long-term care facilities are not treating the COVID-19 virus."

The executive order protects licensed and volunteer health professionals, EMT's, and COVID treatment facilities designated by the state department of health.

Experts, on both sides of the courtroom, say the executive order's impact remains to be seen.

"It only protects certain healthcare workers and only in certain situations. There is some question about whether or not it applies to certain workers in long-term care facilities," said Heather Macre, a Director with Fennemore Law. "It’s also not a complete bar to liability."

"If somebody does something wrong, you can sue them all you want, and this doesn't stop you from doing that," said Dave Voepel.

Voepel is Executive Director of the Arizona Healthcare Association, which lobbies on behalf of long-term care facilities.

"We appreciate what the governor is done," said Voepel. "It will deter frivolous lawsuits, and it allows that facility to breathe a little bit easier knowing that, 'OK, we're not going to be sued for every little thing.'"

"Do you think this is going to discourage people from filing lawsuits," asked ABC15's Zach Crenshaw.

"It's intended to do so, but I think at the end of the day we are going to see quite a bit of litigation," replied Macre.

While the order was just extended, industry insiders say there is already an effort to have the state legislature come up with more permanent protections soon.