Opinion: Keep Michigan’s health care workers focused on saving lives

Nabil Suliman

When it comes to the coronavirus pandemic, we are in it together. People from all walks of life have been severely impacted by COVID-19, physically, mentally and financially. And, people across all demographics have contributed to our fight against the virus by wearing masks, practicing social distancing and even contributing to the purchase of PPE for essential workers like grocery store employees and first responders. 

Now there is more we can do. We need to protect our health care workers and hospitals from lawsuits that could bankrupt them despite the fact they have served on the front lines of an unprecedented pandemic. 

Health care workers selflessly served us from day one, delivering the most essential service under terrible circumstances. When health care provider facilities were flooded with severely ill people in the early days of the outbreak, your doctors, nurses, specialists, support staff, janitors and more did not hesitate to act, providing care, saving lives and keeping hospitals and other medical facilities functioning. And, they took on that task well before we understood anything about COVID-19.   

Health care workers selflessly served us from day one, delivering the most essential service under terrible circumstances, Suliman writes.

Now, the financial crisis devastating family budgets and small businesses is hitting our health care system. Thousands of medical layoffs and millions in budget cuts are threatening our ability to maintain the highest levels of care. And a new financial threat has emerged: coronavirus-related lawsuits against health care workers and hospitals. 

That is why Congress is considering temporarily expanding liability protections for health care workers and facilities by blocking frivolous lawsuits against those who did their jobs well. 

Protections would be limited in nature, dating back to the beginning of the pandemic and going forward for a reasonable amount of time due to the continued explosion in COVID-19 cases. The legal reforms would protect only our best and most dedicated health care workers and hospitals which followed safety procedures created by experts. Lawsuits filed in response to gross negligence or willful misconduct would still be allowed.  

By supporting efforts in Congress to pass temporary liability reform for COVID-19 health care providers, we can keep our health care system focused on saving lives, not fighting frivolous lawsuits in an attempt to stay financially solvent.  

Keeping our health care provider facilities open is essential to the health of everyone in Michigan. While COVID-19 dominates the news, the same everyday health issues and emergencies we faced before must be addressed by fully reopening our health care system. Under the threat of lawsuits, it becomes more difficult or even impossible to reopen dentist offices, resume elective surgeries or restart other services like in-person addiction counseling as opioid overdose responses in Michigan surge 26% during the pandemic.

As a physician who operates urgent care facilities, I can tell you first-hand that the everyday emergencies and health care needs families faced before the coronavirus arrived did not disappear. They continue to happen during the pandemic, even as some services were unavailable or limited in availability. Reopening and fully restoring the availability of all medical services is key to maintaining the overall health of Michigan families. Limiting the threat of financial ruin from frivolous COVID-related lawsuits will go a long way in helping us achieve that goal.

Your essential health care providers have gone to work every day during this crisis with the goal to save lives and keep us healthy. They have taken on the fight against a virus unlike anything we have seen, and are risking their own lives to do so. That is why Congress is doing the right thing by considering temporary and reasonable legal liability protections for health care workers and hospitals who follow safety guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic battle. Because, we need our health care providers thinking about one thing when providing care: You. 

Dr. Nabil Suliman is an internal medicine specialist in Wayne County.