Damage from the shutdown is getting more visible; it is growing, spreading every day.
Hospitals and surgeons have been devastated by stopping what is considered ‘non-essential’ care. Many hospitals may go under. Going under is what farmers are starting to do with their crops. After a panic like we are in, who has liability if anyone gets sick and thinks they caught the bug in a store, restaurant, or business?
Devastation in health care industry
4/23/20 – The Federalist – Instead Of “Flattening The Curve,” We Flattened Hospitals, Doctors, And The US Health Care System – Outside of New York city, hospitals have not been overwhelmed. That means it is time to open up the medical system to allow “non-essential” services.
Example cited include Florida which was projected to have 465,000 hospitalized patients by April 24 only having 2,000 on April 22.
The New York governor insisted the state would need 30,000 ventilators. The projected peak was 5,000. Actual use is unknown but probably far less than that.
Only 71 patients were on the USNS Comfort, which was reconfigured to handle 500 coronavirus patients.
Illinois is using slightly over 50% of the ventilators they have available and 22% of the ventilators were used in Virginia.
Now that we know the hospitals will not be overloaded it is time to open them up.
Article points out the ”non-essential” procedures include things like coronary angioplasty and stents. Also canceled are things like colonoscopies, mastectomies, less than critical cancer treatments, and screening tests.
Other articles describe hospitals across the country laying off large portions of their staff. Those unemployed nurses and idled doctors represent necessary treatments that have been canceled or postponed.
4/24/20 – Newsweek – Most U.S. hospitals are empty. Soon they might be closed for good. The health care industry shed 40,000 jobs in one month. Out-patient care is about half of the revenue stream of hospitals and that half is how shut down across the country.
Devastation will be particular bad in the rural hospitals, but there are lots of systems in danger.
Farmers plowing under their crops
4/26/20 – Wall Street Journal – Coronavirus Forces Farmers to Destroy Their Crops – Demand for produce has drop so fast and so far that farmers are plowing under their ripe crops. Multiple farmers are interviewed who have either plowed under fields or expect to do so soon.
One farmer is pondering whether to accept delivery of young strawberry plants or tell a nursery to keep them. Demand for lettuce collapsed so fast one farmer had to pay his crew to unpack 9,000 cartons of lettuce so it could all be plowed under.
Demand from restaurants and institutions dropped to zero as simultaneously consumers were stocking up on canned and frozen items instead of fresh produce.
Legal risk of opening up after a panic
4/23/20 – Wall Street Journal – Stopping a Lawsuit Epidemic / Plaintiff lawyers are massing to loot medical providers and employers in response to the coronavirus – Editorial calls attention to law firms that are already advertising for lawsuits against healthcare providers. Implications inferred from the article point to the difficulty of defending a lawsuit when there wasn’t enough personal protective equipment in existence in the country and when the medical community had no idea how to treat a disease about which very little was known.
Hindsight will be a wonderful weapon to decide a year or two from now what a hospital or doctor or employer should have done.
Article calls for liability protection at the federal level for healthcare providers and employers to have a safe harbor to work within.
4/23/20 – Tyler Cowan at Bloomberg Opinion – What if You Go Back to the Office and Get COVID 19? – Article points out risks that liability exposure create for any company or organization that decides to reopen. For example, who has liability if a person who is asymptomatic shows up at work or school and infects lots of other people? How much liability does a business or retailer or university have if it didn’t take some precaution that is determined after the fact to have been appropriate?
Managing the liability at a policy level is a delicate balancing act. Not enough liability risk for an employer or business means some might not be motivated to take reasonable precautions. Too much liability risk means businesses, nonprofits, schools, and universities will delay opening.
Since liability could be huge, one judgment would likely destroy many organizations.