Illinois Governor Orders Civil Liability Immunity for Healthcare Workers

Molly Stubbs

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— Updated on April 28, 2020

Illinois Governor Orders Civil Liability Immunity for Healthcare Workers

Since declaring a state of emergency on March 9, 2020, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker has issued a series of executive orders under the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act (IEMA) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to limiting large gatherings, closing schools, and announcing stay at home orders, Governor Pritzker has utilized his emergency powers to extend civil liability immunity to healthcare providers. The governor’s ensuing executive orders have offered further provisions and clarifications for the state’s health care system as they make extraordinary arrangements to combat coronavirus.

Immunity for Healthcare Personnel

Per executive order 2020-19, healthcare facilities and professionals are granted immunity, “from civil liability for any injury or death alleged to have been caused by any act or omission…in the course of rendering assistance to the State by providing health care services in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.” The order offers a wide definition of healthcare facilities as, “facilities licensed, certified, or approved by any State agency.” This includes developmental centers, mental health centers, community-integrated living arrangements, or any “government-operated site providing health care services established for the purpose of responding to the COVID-19 outbreak.” The order further explains healthcare professionals refer to any licensed worker who is working at a facility in response to the health crisis. It also extends to those individuals working under IEMA or the Department of Public Health. These protections do not apply in cases of, “gross negligence or willful misconduct.”

The executive order offers a definition of the specific ways healthcare facilities and medical professionals must be “rendering assistance.” This includes increasing bed counts for patients, “preserving” personal protective equipment (PPE), and making any “necessary” preparations to provide treatment for coronavirus patients. This also includes canceling or postponing any elective surgeries or other treatments for the duration of the emergency period.

Expedited Nursing Certifications

Prior to announcing legal immunities, Governor Pritzker issued amended guidelines for prospective nursing assistants in executive order 2020-12. This order suspends the Healthcare Worker Background Check Act that prohibits an individual from being hired at a certified nursing assistant if they have been noted as inactive on the Health Care Worker Registry. This applies to individuals who 1) have been inactive for no more than five years, 2) were in “good standing” when they became inactive, and 3) complete the paperwork required by the Department of Public Health. Their employment will be considered conditional for the duration of the emergency period, after which they will be subject to a “finger-print based criminal history record check” to retain their employment beyond six months.

Remote Health Requirements

Per executive order 2020-09, health insurance providers are required to cover the costs of telehealth services for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency period. Telehealth services are defined as, “the provision of health care, psychiatry, mental health treatment, substance use disorder treatment, and related services to a patient, regardless of their location, through electronic or telephonic methods.” These services must be covered for all in-network providers and without any unnecessary “review requirements” that impede treatment. Telehealth services must also be provided without any copayments, coinsurance, or deductibles.

Alternative Hospital Arrangements

In executive order 2020-26, Governer Pritzker provides additional guidelines to healthcare facilities inundated with COVID-19 patients. This includes suspending a number of measures under the Hospital Licensing Act, 210 ILCS 85/1 et seq. For the duration of the emergency period, hospitals may omit certain administrative duties unrelated to the public health crisis, such as requirements for closed captioning services, notices of discharging Medicare patients, and reports to the Department of Public Health on opioid overdoses. The order also suspends parts of the Illinois Administrative Code relating to the authorization of EMS personnel to transport patients to or from alternate care facilities (ACF).

The executive order further authorizes hospitals to establish additional ACF as needed to accommodate patients. The order suspends the Illinois Administrative Code as applicable to ACFs, given they, “meet the standards set forth in emergency rules promulgated by the Department of Health.”

Illinois joins New York, Wisconsin, and New Jersey in establishing legal protections for the healthcare workers and facilities combatting the brunt of the novel coronavirus.

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