A lawsuit has been filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania’s Federal Court against Wellpath Care and physicians alleging harm from delays in medical treatment due, in part, to the COVID-19 pandemic. Wellpath delivers medical, mental, and behavioral healthcare services to patients located in inpatient and residential treatment facilities, civil commitment centers, and local, state, and federal correctional facilities. The complaint alleges that Wellpath and medical professionals violated a prisoner’s civil rights and caused injury due to delays in medical treatment. As noted in the filing, many of the delays in treatment were directly a result of the COVID-19 virus and healthcare guidelines in place at the time.
The case revolves around a hip surgery the plaintiff was scheduled to undergo in order fix a previous hip replacement. Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Commonwealth, the plaintiff was scheduled for surgery. However, due to COVID precautions, the plaintiff was on a medical hold for much of 2020 (it should be noted that due to the pandemic, inmates were not being taken to outside treatment) and the scheduled surgery was cancelled in April of 2020. That November, the plaintiff was scheduled for an evaluation appointment at Temple University Hospital Orthopedics. However, the day before the appointment, the plaintiff tested positive for COVID, causing the appointment to be cancelled.
The lawsuit states the medical defendants “violation of their duty of care to Plaintiff was a direct and proximate cause and a substantial factor in bringing about Plaintiff’s damages…and as a result the Medical Defendants are liable to Plaintiff.” Additionally, the suit claims Wellpath is liable because the medical professionals were acting as agents/employees of the health care organization.
One of the problems facing the medical community during the pandemic is potential liability for the necessary delay in providing non-essential medical services. These delays are caused by providers and doctors facing bed shortages due to overcrowding, staff shortages, and following public health guidelines. PCCJR has repeatedly warned the Wolf administration and lawmakers that without targeted protections, medical professionals and businesses are at risk of being targeted in COVID-related lawsuits for factors beyond their control.
Last legislative session, the General Assembly passed PCCJR supported COVID liability protection legislation (HB 1737) that would have protected employers and health care providers from these types of lawsuits, unless it was a case of gross negligence and an entity did not abide by public health directives. Unfortunately, Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed this legislation. As the pandemic continues, COVID related liability relief continues to be a priority for PCCJR.