HARRISBURG - Doctors, nurses and other health care workers treating COVID-19 patients in Pennsylvania should be granted immunity from malpractice claims during the pandemic, the head of the state trade association representing physicians told Gov. Tom Wolf Tuesday.
“We respectfully urge you to recognize the heroic dedication of all health care workers by signing an executive order granting medical liability immunity during the period of the COVID-19 emergency declaration here in the Commonwealth,” Pennsylvania Medical Society president Lawrence R. John, a Pittsburgh doctor, wrote to Wolf.
Wolf has previously stated through an aide that he is exploring such immunity for health care professionals. He had no additional comment Tuesday, said spokeswoman Lyndsay Kensinger.
Nearly a dozen other states have provided immunity to medical staff. Several governors, including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, issued executive orders for the term of the crisis. Other state legislatures enacted statutes.
Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler said House and Senate leaders believe the issue should be addressed through legislation and that "we continue to engage with our colleagues on both sides of the aisle to find a solution" in the absence of an order from Wolf.
“I hope the governor will recognize the unique stresses medical professionals, along with the producers and suppliers of life saving equipment, are under at this difficult time and join us in finding a solution that empowers and protects doctors on the front lines of this crisis,” said Cutler, a Republican from southern Lancaster County.
A proposal to grant legal immunity to health care workers and Pennsylvania manufacturers that are retooling products for use in battling the virus failed to win enough support among House Republicans last week. The proposal would not have granted immunity to health care workers who exhibited “recklessness or intentional misconduct.”
It never came up for a vote in the Republican-controlled House.
House Democrats opposed the language because it was “broad and vaguely worded,” and because it also awarded immunity to “institutions, large and small,” said Bill Patton, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Frank Dermody.
The House Republican Caucus wasn’t fully onboard, either, officials said.
Curt Schroder, a former House member who now heads a coalition of businesses, professional and health care organizations seeking to limit lawsuits, blamed the state’s trial lawyers’ lobby for killing the proposal.
“They should be embarrassed for putting their pecuniary gains ahead of the needs of Pennsylvanians during this crisis,” said Schroder, director of the Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform.
Sud Patel, a Pottsville trial lawyer who heads the association representing trial lawyers in Pennsylvania, said Schroder’s allegation is “absurd.”
Patel, president of the Pennsylvania Association for Justice, said he doubted there would be many malpractice lawsuits stemming from the pandemic. “I don’t see juries being sympathetic,” he said.
Patel acknowledged his organization’s lobbyists worked against the legislation, saying the measure was too broad in shielding institutions such as “large corporate hospitals and large corporate nursing homes.”
Other states with immunity for medical personnel include Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Connecticut, Kentucky, New Jersey, Illinois, New York, New Hampshire, Vermont and Michigan, according to the American Medical Association and a list compiled by Schroder.
The Hospital Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania urged Wolf earlier this month to “join other governors throughout the country to issue an executive order to provide liability protections for health care workers,” said spokeswoman Rachel Moore.
“Our members across the state have expressed their thoughtful and deep concerns that our health care system’s ability to care for patients will be negatively impacted by practitioners’ fears of civil and criminal liability,” said Andy Carter, the association’s president and CEO.