Law360 (May 12, 2020, 7:35 PM EDT) -- Pennsylvania's top prosecutor said Tuesday that his office had opened active investigations in recent weeks into "several" nursing homes across the state for potential acts of criminal negligence related to their handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro said his office would not hesitate to bring criminal charges against facilities and individuals found to be mistreating nursing home patients, who have made up the majority of those killed by COVID-19 in Pennsylvania.
"Protecting seniors and our most vulnerable in the care of others, is one of the core responsibilities of my office and we're stepping up to protect older Pennsylvanians during this crisis," he said in a statement. "We will hold nursing facilities and caretakers criminally accountable if they fail to properly provide care to our loved ones."
Shapiro added that he was urging anyone with information on potential complaints about conduct in Pennsylvania nursing homes to come forward and work with investigators.
"Active criminal investigations are already underway and we encourage people to share relevant complaints with us on our special tip line so we can best protect people in nursing homes," he said.
Just over 2,611 nursing home residents and staff have died from COVID-19 in Pennsylvania, comprising nearly 70% of the 3,800 total deaths reported statewide as of Tuesday afternoon.
More than 12,000 of the state's 58,000 coronavirus cases reported as of Tuesday were among nursing home residents.
Pennsylvania is among a handful of states that had extended some form of civil liability immunity to health care workers from claims related to their response to the pandemic, although the protections in the commonwealth have not been extended to the facilities themselves.
Lobbying groups for health care providers and nursing homes in Pennsylvania and beyond have been pushing for broad immunity from coronavirus-related lawsuits, including in some instances immunity from criminal prosecution.
Christina Carden, a spokeswoman for nursing home industry group LeadingAge PA, said that her organization stood by the work being carried out by skilled nursing facilities and their workers across Pennsylvania.
"About 75% of all Pennsylvania nursing homes have yet to have a single positive case of COVID-19," she said. "LeadingAge PA has been inspired by the relentless dedication and sacrifices made by nursing home front line workers during this pandemic. We also care a great deal for residents and their loved ones, who have been separated for nearly two months. We will continue to support our members, their front line workers, and residents during any investigation."
She noted that her group was not seeking immunity from criminal claims, gross negligence or willful misconduct on the part of long-term care providers.
Shapiro's announcement comes the same day that Gov. Tom Wolf's administration unveiled new guidance to try to ramp up testing at skilled nursing facilities in the state, even those where no infections have been confirmed, to try to curb the spread of the virus.
Under the new guidance, the state's Department of Health recommended widespread testing, even among asymptomatic residents, at nursing homes where COVID-19 cases have been discovered.
At facilities without confirmed infections, the department recommended that 20% of residents and staff be tested every week to try to identify potential asymptomatic carriers before they're able to spread the virus.
--Editing by Abbie Sarfo.
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