We’ve all experienced the burdens wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, but there’s no denying that those of us working in long term care have experienced unimaginable pressures as we fight it from the front lines. Despite the challenges and exhaustion, we’ve endured for nearly a year, we continue to show up every day to protect our residents from the virus and its continued spread.
I am continuously amazed by my staff for their steadfast dedication to caring for our residents in all circumstances. We all thought that hurricanes were the most trying as a caregiver, but this past year was like nothing we’ve ever experienced. We’ve had to make do with an initial limited supply of personal protective equipment, adapt to constantly changing policies, and sacrifice our own safety to serve others.
Now Florida legislators are discussing whether health care workers like me need to be protected from the threat of lawsuits for the work we’ve done to keep our residents safe. Imagine what it’s like every day to mask up and manage your residents’ care needs in the midst of a crisis over which you had no control. Now imagine having to contend with attorneys second-guessing your every decisions that were made in good faith.
As someone who oversees the clinical services for our 11 care centers, I’ve personally witnessed the negative impacts of unnecessary lawsuits. Serving the elderly has been my passion for the past 15 years, and this year has undoubtedly been the hardest one my staff has experienced. They are physically and mentally weary, and the last thing they need is the added anxiety that comes with excessive lawsuits. How does a personal injury lawyer lurking over our shoulder ensure our residents are well cared for? What contributions do they make to the quality care we’re striving to deliver?
I’ve seen what it does to the staff when they are pulled away from the facility to sit through depositions. It’s exhausting and fear-inducing. The worst part is knowing that it diverts our time from providing the care our residents deserve. It also discourages those who remain on the job, putting them at risk of leaving the profession. Now more than ever, that is something we cannot afford.
Florida is always going to need more long term care professionals to take care of our parents, our grandparents, and maybe even ourselves someday. As we’ve seen more clearly than ever during the pandemic, we are fully dependent on the health care community to keep us safe and well. I urge lawmakers to pass COVID-19 liability protections to support Florida’s health care heroes, including those of us in long term care. We will continue to protect your loved ones, and I hope we can count on the Legislature to protect us.
Kim Biegasiewicz is chief nursing officer for the Avante Group, which operates 11 skilled nursing centers across Florida.