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Archive for March, 2020

Practice of Medicine Without a License in Georgia Under COVID-19

Posted on: March 30th, 2020

By: Shaun Daugherty

In the early evening hours of March 23, Georgia’s Governor Kemp signed an executive order addressing the current medical crisis that has developed due to the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.  Under this executive order, any “administrative rules that prohibit the practice of medicine, surgery, osteopathic medicine and osteopathic surgery” without a current license will not be enforced.  This only pertains to those individuals whose license has been inactive or lapsed within the last five (5) years, have no ongoing investigations and have had no history of administrative action adverse to the licensee.  The suspension of the enforcement of these provisions is limited to the treatment “of victims of the existing public health emergency and solely for the duration of the Order.” 

In addition, the Governor has permitted the Georgia Board of Nursing to grant temporary licenses to those registered nurses (RN) and practical nurses (PN) who have completed their training, but have yet to take and pass the licensing exam.  These temporary licenses will allow the graduates to work “under a licensed registered nurse or licensed practical nurse” during the effective dates of the Order.  This has generated Policy 1.16 from the Georgia Board of Nursing regarding the process and procedure of applying for the temporary permit.  This also allows nursing professionals from out of state to apply for and obtain temporary permits as well. 

Basically, if you have recently retired or allowed your medical license to lapse for other reasons, you are allowed to jump in and help provide medical care and treatment to those infected or suspected to be infected with the virus and not be charged with practicing medicine without a license.  That is as long as your last license was unencumbered and without prior adverse administrative action.  In addition, if you have recently graduated from nursing school and have not yet completed your licensing exams for this state, you too can practice immediately, under the supervision of an already licensed RN or LPN.  Applications for the emergency temporary permits can be found at the Georgia Board of Nursing website at https://sos.ga.gov/index.php/licensing/plb/45/emergency_temporary_permits

These provisions are clearly meant to address the growing shortage of health care providers available to treat the pandemic that has developed.  The next step is going to be finding places for them to treat the patients.  If you have any questions, please contact Shaun Daugherty at [email protected]

Additional Information:

The FMG Coronavirus Task Team will be conducting a series of webinars on Coronavirus issues on a regular basis. Topics include the CCPA, the CARES Act, Law Enforcement and the viruses’ impact on the Construction Industry. Click here to register.

FMG has formed a Coronavirus Task Force to provide up-to-the-minute information, strategic advice, and practical solutions for our clients.  Our group is an interdisciplinary team of attorneys who can address the multitude of legal issues arising out of the coronavirus pandemic, including issues related to Healthcare, Product Liability, Tort Liability, Data Privacy, and Cyber and Local Governments.  For more information about the Task Force, click here.

You can also contact your FMG relationship partner or email the team with any questions at [email protected].

**DISCLAIMER:  The attorneys at Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP (“FMG”) have been working hard to produce educational content to address issues arising from the concern over COVID-19.  The webinars and our written material have produced many questions. Some we have been able to answer, but many we cannot without a specific legal engagement.  We can only give legal advice to clients.  Please be aware that your attendance at one of our webinars or receipt of our written material does not establish an attorney-client relationship between you and FMG.  An attorney-client relationship will not exist unless and until an FMG partner expressly and explicitly states IN WRITING that FMG will undertake an attorney-client relationship with you, after ascertaining that the firm does not have any legal conflicts of interest.  As a result, you should not transmit any personal or confidential information to FMG unless we have entered into a formal written agreement with you.  We will continue to produce education content for the public, but we must point out that none of our webinars, articles, blog posts, or other similar material constitutes legal advice, does not create an attorney client relationship and you cannot rely on it as such.  We hope you will continue to take advantage of the conferences and materials that may pertain to your work or interests.** 

Federal Government Issues New CMS Guidance To Protect Nursing Home Residents From COVID-19

Posted on: March 30th, 2020

By: Kevin G. Kenneally, Michael P. Giunta and William E. Gildea

Nursing home and skilled nursing facilities have been particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 virus.  The resident populations are uniquely vulnerable and outbreaks in facilities nationwide have sparked actions to protect elderly and disabled residents.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”) provided new guidelines in a memorandum detailing protections for nursing home residents from COVID-19.  CMS recommends that all facilities restrict visitation of all visitors and non-essential health care personnel, absent certain compassionate care situations.  This follows on the heels of the preliminary results of the inspection of the Kirkland, Washington nursing home, which was the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak.  In addition to a focused inspection process provided to all facilities and inspectors, which is designed to ensure each facility is prepared to prevent the spread of the virus, the memorandum addresses additional guidance. If an individual enters a facility for a compassionate care situation, facilities should require visitors to perform hand hygiene and use Personal Protective Equipment like facemasks.  Decisions about visitation during these situations should be made on a case by case basis after careful screening of the potential visitor.  Facilities are expected to notify potential visitors to defer visitation until further notice. 

The memorandum lists specific guidelines that facilities should adhere to, including but not limited to: (1) cancelling communal dining and all group activities; (2) performing active screening of residents and staff for fever and respiratory symptoms; (3) reminding residents to practice social distancing and perform frequent hand hygiene; (4) screening all staff at the beginning of their shift for fever and respiratory symptoms; and (5) identify staff that work at multiple facilities and actively screen and restrict them appropriately.  The memorandum further discusses how facilities should consider hygiene and monitoring symptoms for persons entering/exiting facilities.  Facilities are encouraged to review and revise how their vendors deliver supplies, such as implementing dedicated drop-off locations for supplies at facilities.  If a nursing home has a resident suspected of having COVID-19, it should contact their local health department immediately. 

Instead of visits, facilities should consider offering alternative means of communications and assigning staff as primary sources of contact for residents.  If an individual enters a facility for a compassionate care situation, facilities should require visitors to perform hand hygiene and use Personal Protective Equipment like facemasks.  Decisions about visitation during these situations should be made on a case by case basis after careful screening of the potential visitor.  Facilities are expected to notify potential visitors to defer visitation until further notice.

The March 13, 2020 memorandum, in part, calls for facility staff to regularly monitor the Centers for Disease Control’s (“CDC”) website for additional information and resources. CMS recommends that facilities perform frequent monitoring for potential symptoms of respiratory infection.  The facilities should further maintain a “person-centered approach to care,” which includes communicating effectively with residents, resident representatives and/or family and further understanding the individual needs and goals of care for residents.  If a facility experiences an increased number of respiratory illnesses (regardless of suspected etiology), it should immediately contact their local or state health department for further guidance.

State governments closely regulate nursing homes, and many are issuing state specific guidance.  If a state government implements actions that exceed CMS requirements through an executive order, the facility will not be out of compliance with CMS’ requirements.  The memorandum further states that “State and Federal surveyors should not cite facilities for not having certain supplies (e.g., PPE such as gowns, N95 respirators, surgical masks and ABHR) if they are having difficulty obtaining supplies for reasons outside of their control.”  However, CMS still expects “facilities to take actions to mitigate any shortages and show they are taking all appropriate steps to obtain the necessary supply as soon as possible.”

The memorandum provides the following email address for a point of contact: [email protected].

Additional Information:

The FMG Coronavirus Task Team will be conducting a series of webinars on Coronavirus issues on a regular basis. Topics include the CCPA, the CARES Act, Law Enforcement and the viruses’ impact on the Construction Industry. Click here to register.

FMG has formed a Coronavirus Task Force to provide up-to-the-minute information, strategic advice, and practical solutions for our clients. Our group is an interdisciplinary team of attorneys who can address the multitude of legal issues arising out of the Coronavirus pandemic, including issues related to Healthcare, Product Liability, Tort Liability, Data Privacy, and Cyber and Local Governments. For more information about the Task Force, click here.

You can also contact your FMG relationship partner or email the team with any questions at [email protected].

**DISCLAIMER: The attorneys at Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP (“FMG”) have been working hard to produce educational content to address issues arising from the concern over COVID-19. The webinars and our written material have produced many questions. Some we have been able to answer, but many we cannot without a specific legal engagement. We can only give legal advice to clients. Please be aware that your attendance at one of our webinars or receipt of our written material does not establish an attorney-client relationship between you and FMG. An attorney-client relationship will not exist unless and until an FMG partner expressly and explicitly states IN WRITING that FMG will undertake an attorney-client relationship with you, after ascertaining that the firm does not have any legal conflicts of interest. As a result, you should not transmit any personal or confidential information to FMG unless we have entered into a formal written agreement with you.  We will continue to produce education content for the public, but we must point out that none of our webinars, articles, blog posts, or other similar material constitutes legal advice, does not create an attorney client relationship and you cannot rely on it as such. We hope you will continue to take advantage of the conferences and materials that may pertain to your work or interests.**

Navigating Insurance Coverage Questions in the Age of COVID-19

Posted on: March 30th, 2020

By: Katie Cusack

It is no secret that concerns about coronavirus and COVID-19 have impacted tens of thousands of businesses across the world.  In many industries, its effects are novel, and many businesses are unsure of what their obligations are at this time and whether their insurance policies will cover any losses stemming from the effects of the virus and the disease it causes.  Two insurance policy types are particularly relevant to questions related to COVID-19 – business interruption and event insurance.    

Business Interruption Insurance

Whether business interruption insurance providers will be obligated under contract to cover business losses resulting from COVID-19 depends largely on the precise language of the policy and the facts surrounding any loss.  Due to somewhat recent viral outbreaks across the globe, many policies include language to exclude coverage for losses stemming from viral outbreaks.  Litigation over this issue has begun.  In mid-March a New Orleans restaurant company filed for a judgment that losses due to government-mandated closures related to COVID-19 would be covered by its property and business interruption policy.  New Orleans restaurants at the time the suit was filed were instructed to limit seating capacity, but now may only offer carry-out, drive-through, or delivery services.  According to the complaint, the restaurant’s business interruption insurance policy does not include any exclusions for losses caused by viruses or global pandemics. 

Last week, on March 24, two Native American tribes in Oklahoma – the Chickasaw Nation and the Choctaw Nation – filed lawsuits in Oklahoma state court seeking declarations that their “all risk” property insurance policies cover their “losses and expenses related to the COVID-19 pandemic and infection” because “the United States of America became infected by COVID-19 resulting in a pandemic,” which is alleged to result in “direct physical loss or damage” to each Nation’s property.

On March 26, a California restaurant company also filed for a court judgment to confirm the restaurant’s insurance would cover losses resulting from COVID-19.  The restaurant company, French Laundry LP, claims it furloughed 300 employees after local authorities ordered individuals to stay at home.     

The outcome of these cases will of course depend on the terms and conditions of the insurance contract and the evidence.  

Event Insurance

Thousands of weddings, conferences, and other events across the country have been cancelled as a precaution against coronavirus and COVID-19.  As with business interruption insurance, whether coverage exists will be fact-specific.  And terms and conditions of event cancellation policies are often tailored to the specific event and its circumstances.  Many event insurance policies require a “necessary” cancellation or postponement for coverage to exist.  This will require close analysis of the cause – government-induced, fear-based, etc. – of a cancellation or postponement. 

The governmental restrictions on weddings, funerals, and general gatherings of individuals have varied from state-to-state, town-to-town, and within the same governmental area, day-to-day.  And in some places, gatherings have been permitted to go forward, but with a restriction on the number of participants.  Again, the policy language and the evidence should control the outcome. 

Pressure to Waive Coverage Exceptions

However, it is worth noting that there may be considerations outside of the language of an insurance policy and the factual situation surrounding a particular case.  Insurance providers may be pressured to make exceptions to their policies. 

In the case of medical insurance, some states have requested that providers waive certain costs for testing for COVID-19.  In addition, in other industries, some companies have waived conditions of a contract in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.  For example, certain airlines have waived change fees to allow customers to rebook their flights that were affected by COVID-19.    

The landscape changes daily, and it is important to understand the details behind the headlines.

Additional Information:

The FMG Coronavirus Task Team will be conducting a series of webinars on Coronavirus issues on a regular basis. Topics include the CCPA, the CARES Act, Law Enforcement and the viruses’ impact on the Construction Industry. Click here to register.

FMG has formed a Coronavirus Task Force to provide up-to-the-minute information, strategic advice, and practical solutions for our clients.  Our group is an interdisciplinary team of attorneys who can address the multitude of legal issues arising out of the coronavirus pandemic, including issues related to Healthcare, Product Liability, Tort Liability, Data Privacy, and Cyber and Local Governments.  For more information about the Task Force, click here.

You can also contact your FMG relationship partner or email the team with any questions at [email protected].

**DISCLAIMER:  The attorneys at Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP (“FMG”) have been working hard to produce educational content to address issues arising from the concern over COVID-19.  The webinars and our written material have produced many questions. Some we have been able to answer, but many we cannot without a specific legal engagement.  We can only give legal advice to clients.  Please be aware that your attendance at one of our webinars or receipt of our written material does not establish an attorney-client relationship between you and FMG.  An attorney-client relationship will not exist unless and until an FMG partner expressly and explicitly states IN WRITING that FMG will undertake an attorney-client relationship with you, after ascertaining that the firm does not have any legal conflicts of interest.  As a result, you should not transmit any personal or confidential information to FMG unless we have entered into a formal written agreement with you.  We will continue to produce education content for the public, but we must point out that none of our webinars, articles, blog posts, or other similar material constitutes legal advice, does not create an attorney client relationship and you cannot rely on it as such.  We hope you will continue to take advantage of the conferences and materials that may pertain to your work or interests.** 

U.S. Department of Education Announces Temporary Halting of Wage Garnishments

Posted on: March 30th, 2020

By: Jeffrey A. Hord

On March 25, 2020, the Department of Education (DOE) announced that it will temporarily halt seizing wages and/or withholding tax refunds from borrowers who have defaulted on their student loans held by the federal government.  As part of the Trump Administration’s multifaceted response to the COVID-19 national emergency, the DOE has suspended any wage garnishments and stopped all requests to the U.S. Treasury Department to withhold money from defaulted borrowers.  The directive is retroactive to March 13, 2020, and will last for a period of at least sixty (60) days.  The DOE also instructed private collection agencies to stop all “proactive collection activities,” including making phone calls to borrowers and issuing collection letters and billing statements.

Employers who are responsible for properly processing wage garnishments should take note of this announcement.  In its official press release, the DOE emphasized that, while borrowers whose paychecks were being garnished will now be entitled to their full wage, it is the responsibility of the employer to make the necessary change to the employee’s paycheck:

“The Department must rely on employers to make the change to borrowers’ paychecks, so it will monitor employers’ compliance with the request to stop wage garnishment. Borrowers whose wages continue to be garnished after March 13 should contact their employers’ human resources department.”

While the directive unambiguously prohibits “new” wage garnishments, Social Security offsets, and collection actions, the DOE’s announcement leaves some room for doubt as to whether garnishments and offsets put into effect prior to March 13, 2020 are similarly impacted.  However, in a contemporaneous set of FAQ published on the DOE’s official Federal Student Aid website, the Department seemed to clearly signal its intent:

If your wages continue to be garnished after the president’s March 13, 2020, announcement, you should contact your employer’s human resources department. If DOE receives funds from your paycheck that should have been stopped as a result of the March 13 announcement, we will refund your garnished wages.

The good news for employers who make payments towards their employees’ outstanding student loans as a benefit of employment is that they can now do so tax-free until January 1, 2021, for up to $5,250 annually.

Additional Information:

The FMG Coronavirus Task Team will be conducting a series of webinars on Coronavirus issues on a regular basis.  On April 2, we will discuss the impact of Coronavirus on law enforcement.  Click here to register.

FMG has formed a Coronavirus Task Force to provide up-to-the-minute information, strategic advice, and practical solutions for our clients. Our group is an interdisciplinary team of attorneys who can address the multitude of legal issues arising out of the Coronavirus pandemic, including issues related to Healthcare, Product Liability, Tort Liability, Data Privacy, and Cyber and Local Governments. For more information about the Task Force, click here.

You can also contact your FMG relationship partner or email the team with any questions at [email protected].

**DISCLAIMER: The attorneys at Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP (“FMG”) have been working hard to produce educational content to address issues arising from the concern over COVID-19. The webinars and our written material have produced many questions. Some we have been able to answer, but many we cannot without a specific legal engagement. We can only give legal advice to clients. Please be aware that your attendance at one of our webinars or receipt of our written material does not establish an attorney-client relationship between you and FMG. An attorney-client relationship will not exist unless and until an FMG partner expressly and explicitly states IN WRITING that FMG will undertake an attorney-client relationship with you, after ascertaining that the firm does not have any legal conflicts of interest. As a result, you should not transmit any personal or confidential information to FMG unless we have entered into a formal written agreement with you.  We will continue to produce education content for the public, but we must point out that none of our webinars, articles, blog posts, or other similar material constitutes legal advice, does not create an attorney client relationship and you cannot rely on it as such. We hope you will continue to take advantage of the conferences and materials that may pertain to your work or interests.**

The New CARES Act Allows Pandemic Victims to Borrow from Their 401(k)s and IRAs Without Penalty and Defer Required Minimum Distributions

Posted on: March 30th, 2020

By: Greg Fayard

The federal Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act signed into law March 27, 2020, includes retirement tax relief for victims of the pandemic—namely victims’ 401(k)s and IRAs.

Under section 2202 of the $2 Trillion law (which amends the IRS code), victims under 59 and a half may withdraw up to $100,000 (or the entire balance if less than that) from their retirement accounts (401(k)s and Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs)) WITHOUT paying the normal 10% penalty as long as they pay back the withdrawn amount within three years.

But who qualifies as a Coronavirus victim and can take advantage of this provision? To qualify, individuals (or their spouse or dependent) needs to be diagnosed with the COVID-19 disease, or experienced adverse financial consequences from being quarantined, furloughed, laid off, having work hours reduced, or being unable to work due to lack of child care stemming from the pandemic. Any early Coronavirus-triggered withdrawals, however, would be taxed depending on the individual’s income and tax bracket, which usually falls in the 20% to 25% range. Hence, while the Coronovirus-sanctioned withdrawals avoid the normal 10% penalty, it does not permit tax-free withdrawals (unless the withdrawal is from a Roth 401(k)). 

Borrowing from your 401(k), however, regardless of the penalty, should be a last resort—especially now, considering the steep decline in retirement account balances resulting from the pandemic. With a turbulent stock market likely in the near future given the extension of the federal “slow the spread” protocols to April 30, 2020, only the most desperate should consider an early 401(k) withdrawal, even if the 10% penalty is temporarily waived for 2020.

There is also tax relief for required minimum distributions under the CARES Act. The recently enacted Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act (enacted December 20, 2019, taking effect January 1, 2020), provides retirees who turned 72 before April 1, 2020, who have traditional IRAs or a 401(k), must take minimum distributions, or RMDs, by the end of the year. If they don’t take their Required Minimum Distribution, they will be penalized 50% of the RMD amount. The RMD is subject to federal income tax. For those who turned 70 and a half in 2019, the RMDs would normally have to be taken by this April. 

Additional Information: 

The FMG Coronavirus Task Team will be conducting a series of webinars on Coronavirus issues on a regular basis.  On April 2, we will discuss the impact of Coronavirus on law enforcement.  Click here to register.

FMG has formed a Coronavirus Task Force to provide up-to-the-minute information, strategic advice, and practical solutions for our clients. Our group is an interdisciplinary team of attorneys who can address the multitude of legal issues arising out of the Coronavirus pandemic, including issues related to Labor & Employment, Healthcare, Product Liability, Tort Liability, Data Privacy, and Cyber and Local Governments. For more information about the Task Force, click here.

You can also contact your FMG relationship partner or email the team with any questions at [email protected].

**DISCLAIMER: The attorneys at Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP (“FMG”) have been working hard to produce educational content to address issues arising from the concern over COVID-19. The webinars and our written material have produced many questions. Some we have been able to answer, but many we cannot without a specific legal engagement. We can only give legal advice to clients. Please be aware that your attendance at one of our webinars or receipt of our written material does not establish an attorney-client relationship between you and FMG. An attorney-client relationship will not exist unless and until an FMG partner expressly and explicitly states IN WRITING that FMG will undertake an attorney-client relationship with you, after ascertaining that the firm does not have any legal conflicts of interest. As a result, you should not transmit any personal or confidential information to FMG unless we have entered into a formal written agreement with you.  We will continue to produce educational content for the public, but we must point out that none of our webinars, articles, blog posts, or other similar material constitutes legal advice, does not create an attorney client relationship and you cannot rely on it as such. We hope you will continue to take advantage of the conferences and materials that may pertain to your work or interests.**