JBE’s Two Most Important Backers Might Well Be At War Soon…

…because it’s only a matter of time before his most prominent backers, the trial lawyers, go after the Number Two set of backers, the nursing homes, like Patton through France over the stunningly awful performance of the latter in the face of the Wuhan virus pandemic.

About 40 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in Louisiana have come from nursing homes and assisted living or long-term care facilities. They’re served as a tinder-box for the pandemic, and the state’s media have finally begun paying attention to something that was quite obvious all along.

State figures released Monday detail the breadth of the coronavirus outbreak in Louisiana’s nursing homes, with deaths in those facilities representing nearly half of the Baton Rouge region’s fatal cases.

Figures released by the Louisiana Department of Health lifted the curtain on the extent of outbreaks across the state’s nursing and long-term care facilities, detailing the human toll COVID-19 has had on facilities housing the state’s most vulnerable residents.

Despite only making up roughly 13% of recorded cases in Baton Rouge and the surrounding 12 parishes, nearly half of the region’s deaths have come from nursing homes, according to an Advocate analysis of state Department of Health data.

Gov. John Bel Edwards said the figures are “alarming.”

“COVID-19 concerns me, period, and it especially concerns me when it affects people who are more vulnerable in those congregate settings,” he said. “Nursing homes check all of those boxes.”

Across Louisiana, 863 nursing home residents in Louisiana died after contracting the virus that causes COVID-19, with cases found in 71% of Louisiana’s nursing homes.

Only six out of 48 nursing homes in the Baton Rouge region reported having no cases in employees and residents.

At least 212 people in East Baton Rouge Parish died after contracting the respiratory illness as of Monday, and 112 of them lived in nursing facilities.

Old Jefferson Community Care Center saw the highest number of cases and deaths of any nursing home in the region, with state figures showing 82 residents tested positive for the virus and 21 died.

Then there’s WWL-TV’s report on COVID-19 and the nursing homes…

There’s a lot more where that came from – WWL did follow-up stories here, here, here and here.

It would be fair to say that nursing home operators would have a pretty tough job protecting their patients from COVID-19, as the majority of the people in those facilities would obviously be at the highest risk possible of dying from it, and the entire concept of a nursing home is fraught with peril in terms of the potential exposure of its residents to the disease. Everybody eats in what’s essentially a restaurant, the attendants handle the patients regularly, and in some cases intimate ways, people are breathing the same air and touching the same surfaces, and the residents don’t spend all that much time outside.

So something like the Wuhan virus comes along and it’s a perfect storm.

That said, it seems pretty clear that in a lot of the nursing homes around the state, the management was caught flat-footed, to be charitable, when the virus came along. And seeing as though their clientele were the single most vulnerable group of people possible, “flat-footed” wouldn’t be an acceptable status.

But the numbers don’t lie. Take the nursing homes and related facilities out of the mix and COVID-19’s impact on Louisiana wouldn’t have justified anything close to the shutdown and economic devastation we’ve seen over the past 10 weeks.

So much so that one wonders how much of the state’s reaction to the virus and some of its suspect record-keeping hasn’t been driven by an attempt to protect nursing homes.

The nursing home operators were some of the largest backers of Edwards’ re-election campaign and Gumbo PAC, his political action committee. The list of donations from nursing homes to state legislators and other politicians in Louisiana is breathtakingly long. Ask anyone at the Capitol and they’ll tell you it’s impossible to get anything done the nursing home crowd opposes. Sen. Conrad Appel found that out two years ago when he tried to pass a bill that would have saved the state’s taxpayers some $100 million per year by allowing elderly citizens the option to use Medicaid to get at-home care when it was appropriate, rather than having to go into nursing homes. The industry went ballistic over that, and Edwards got that bill killed despite it being obviously good policy.

How many casualties two years later came from killing that bill is a good question. There is no question lives were lost in the bargain, and if you want to play the “blood on your hands” game you can do it.

So now it’s a matter of time before the lawsuits come, and the nursing homes are going to be beset by the trial lawyers as accusations of everything up to negligent homicide are levied.

And we know that in order to get the state’s economy back going – not to mention the national economy – there has to be some sort of plan to indemnify businesses from COVID-19 related claims; otherwise fear of being sued into oblivion over the risk to customers and employees is going to gum up the recovery. They’re in the middle of a congressional debate on that subject in Washington, and Louisiana’s Attorney General Jeff Landry joined 20 of his colleagues to ask Congress to institute some sort of liability protection to facilitate a full reopening. U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson (R-Bossier City) recommended that President Trump work on that problem from the perspective of an executive order in case Congress gets deadlocked.

There will be some debate on this in Louisiana, to be certain. LABI has already weighed in with recommendations on a liability protection regime, and already bills have been filed on workers’ compensation issues related to the virus.

What’s going to be really, really interesting is when there is inevitably brought a bill in the Louisiana legislature to protect businesses from COVID-19 liability, and if that bill includes nursing homes. Because when that happens it’s going to be a cage match between two of the governor’s most favored, and most loyal, special interests.

The rest of us can just make popcorn and watch the show.

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