Despite our best efforts to “flatten the curve” of the coronavirus spread, the infection has resulted in a worldwide pandemic. In the United States alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports over 2.1 million people infected with COVID-19. Unfortunately, nursing home residents are already at a higher risk of the spread of respiratory infection and disease, and COVID-19 is particularly contagious.
As part of Pintas & Mullins Law Firm’s commitment to providing personal injury victims with the best possible safety, prevention, and legal assistance, we will update this blog post weekly. With up-to-date information on the latest recommendations, we can help stop the coronavirus spread and reduce the impact of the impending second wave.
Coming Out of Quarantine
NBC News offers a complete timeline of the COVID-19 pandemic, from its start in the Chinese city of Wuhan. One of the most notable elements in the timeline of the novel coronavirus is the lifting of lockdown and quarantine restrictions in mid-May 2020. After virtually shutting down all non-essential jobs, asking people to stay in their homes, and closing public gathering areas, states began to “re-open,” starting with store reopenings in Maine on May 8th.
The plan is to gradually ease protective restrictions while still maintaining many of the social distancing practices that have been put into place across the country. These include:
- Wearing personal protective equipment, such as masks over the mouth and nose
- Keeping at least six feet apart from other people
- Washing hands thoroughly with soap and water
Even with these rules in place, epidemiologists anticipate a second wave of the virus later this year. According to computer models run by experts at the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), the United States should experience this second spike in coronavirus cases around September 15th.
Why Nursing Homes Are High-Risk
Nursing homes are a hotbed for COVID-19 infection due to a variety of factors. Sadly, the elderly and immuno-compromised are particularly susceptible to coronavirus, so the prevalence of the disease in nursing homes can cause significant damage. Data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) make this problem explicit:
- 95,515 confirmed cases of nursing home residents nationwide contracting COVID-19
- 31,782 confirmed deaths due to COVID-19 (nearly a third of all confirmed cases)
- Almost 60,000 suspected cases of the illness
These numbers are staggering, mainly because the U.S. total death toll (as of June 17th) is 116,140. Nearly a third of those deaths represent residents in nursing homes. So why are nursing home residents at such a high risk? There are a few reasons.
Many nursing homes are packed with residents, which means that these residents must live close to each other. Viruses like COVID-19 are easily transmitted among a population that mainly stays in one location. This phenomenon is often mirrored in the home. For example, a young child might bring a virus back from school, infecting the entire family. Nursing homes can function in much the same way, as the virus passes from person to person, carried into the residency by visitors or medical staff.
Weakened Immune Systems
Another common issue that makes nursing homes high-risk for coronavirus outbreaks is that residents of nursing homes often struggle with chronic illnesses. Many of these illnesses already affect the respiratory system, which is the primary target of COVID-19. When the immune system is already struggling to combat various chronic diseases, it is less able to prevent new viruses like COVID-19 from attacking a person’s body.
According to the Nursing Home Abuse Guide, about 90% of nursing homes are understaffed. While nurses and doctors do what they can to help residents and meet their needs, lack of staff means that each resident’s time is greatly diminished. It also means a higher number of residents served by the same nurse or doctor. If that nurse or doctor (who travels in and out of the nursing home) carries COVID-19, they can transfer the virus to other residents.
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CDC Recommendations for Nursing Homes
Nursing homes are long-term care facilities. It is not feasible to shut them down during a pandemic, as many residents have nowhere else to go. Some may have no living family members, while others’ families may lack the ability and know-how to care for their relatives at home properly. So what is to be done?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has listed its recommendations on preparing for COVID-19 in nursing homes. With the implementation of these protocols, the spread of coronavirus among nursing home residents can be contained, treated, and kept under control.
- Have at least one person trained in infection prevention and control (IPC)
- Report infection cases to the National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN) Long-term Care Facility (LTCF) COVID-19 Module
- Inform visitors, staff, and residents of new COVID-19 procedures and risks
- Enforce the wearing of masks among residents, staff, and visitors (if allowed entrance), excepting unconscious residents or residents with respiratory issues
- Encourage alternative visitation methods like teleconferencing
- Develop a COVID-19 testing plan
- Extend non-punitive sick leave policies for staff
- Develop a plan for accepting new residents, including testing procedures
Statistics from FREOPP
The risk posed to people who live in nursing homes by COVID-19 is huge. New reports from the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity (FREOPP) show just how severe the matter is. Some essential points are listed below.
People in Nursing Homes Are Affected Worse Than Others
About 0.2% of Americans live in nursing homes or assisted living centers. However, they account for around 43% of all deaths related to COVID-19. Some estimates list residents of nursing homes as more than half of all U.S. COVID-19 deaths.
Older Adults Account for Most Cases
In other startling reports, FREOPP says that patients aged 65 or older account for more than 80% of all COVID-19 deaths. As states continue to “reopen,” the elderly are particularly at risk for infection and serious injury.
Effects of COVID-19
Even in “less serious” cases of the virus, symptoms can be devastating. The Mayo Clinic lists many common symptoms related to COVID-19:
- Trouble breathing
- Lack of taste or smell
If you live in a nursing home, you may also show other symptoms like blue lips from lack of breath, lots of sleeping, pains in your chest, and even confusion. Sadly, COVID-19 also causes problems with chronic illnesses, which many people in nursing homes have. You may suffer heart problems and blood clots or get sick from other viruses while you are weak from COVID-19.
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Nursing Home Lawsuit News
If you get COVID-19 in a nursing home, it might be due to weak safety measures or a lack of staff training. In that case, you may want to file a lawsuit. However, as the Washington Post reports, both state and federal governments have considered legislation that makes it harder than usual to sue a nursing home.
This makes it even more difficult for you to get justice. Nursing home abuse and medical malpractice are already difficult cases that should not be pursued without a lawyer.
COVID-19 in Nursing Homes: Death Toll Crosses 50,000
Aging parents. Limited resources. The need for better care and constant medical attention. Companionship.
There are many reasons why families approach nursing homes for care and support. About 1.4 million Americans depend on nursing homes for their care. Unfortunately, nursing homes are being ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., and the number of deaths has skyrocketed.
Recently, the COVID-19 death toll at nursing homes crossed 50,000. There are more than 250,000 residents and staffers at nursing homes who have been infected by the coronavirus.
Research shows that buildings that house and care for seniors are linked to more than 40% of the deaths because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Insufficient Resources and Conditions of Neglect
Even in the best of times, nursing homes are particularly susceptible to disease outbreaks because they have an aging population, with a number of underlying conditions, housed in very close quarters.
It’s no surprise that the highly contagious novel coronavirus has been spreading with such rapidity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “nursing home populations are at high risk of being affected by respiratory pathogens like COVID-19 and other pathogens, including multidrug-resistant organisms.”
Poor planning and management have caused infections and fatalities at nursing homes to skyrocket:
- Some nursing homes have been cited multiple times for failing to take measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus. In some cases, in spite of passing the IDPH inspection, temporary restraining orders are in place for these facilities.
- Workers at homes have been reported to not even be wearing personal protective equipment.
- Testing for coronavirus has remained low across the board, even though governors have ordered universal testing in multiple states.
- General negligence and abuse also result in poor health conditions.
Even if one case of COVID-19 is found in a nursing home, residents and their families must be informed. Individual facilities have been ordered to disclose confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths in nursing homes to the CDC and make the information public. Unfortunately, these directions are not being followed.
The CDC website has a comprehensive set of guidelines for nursing homes to follow during the COVID-19 pandemic. These include guidelines for prevention of infection, how to conduct facility-wide COVID-19 testing, what to do if a patient tests positive, and additional resources for nursing homes with mental care units.
Even with this framework in place, nursing homes are somehow not able to slow the spread of coronavirus. Negligence in nursing homes has been a persistent problem and is even more concerning as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads through nursing homes at a faster rate than it does through the general community.
Nursing Home Negligence Is Common
Even though many families look to nursing homes to help take care of elderly loved ones, negligence and abuse are widespread in these homes.
Common problems seen in nursing homes include:
- Emotional abuse
- Medication errors
- Sexual abuse
Elderly people who are abused have a 300% higher risk of death than those who aren’t. This makes it even more important to protect our elderly populations, especially during a public health crisis.
What You Can Do
This is a stressful time for anyone with a loved one in a nursing home. As states begin to ease lockdowns, nursing homes are weighing the risks and allowing some in-person visits.
This will allow us to see our loved ones and their nursing home in person. If you suspect any negligence or lack of care and precaution, ensure that you take the required steps to keep your loved one safe.
A clear line of communication with your loved one is critical during this pandemic. Try to check in with them regularly via video or phone, even if an in-person visit is still not allowed in their nursing home.
We Can Help
As nursing homes struggle to cope with the coronavirus crisis, many residents are falling sick in record numbers, and many others are being neglected. You might be wondering about what legal steps you can take to ensure the safety of your loved ones in a nursing home.
Our firm handles nursing home cases nationwide and can help you deal with any suspected negligence or abuse at your loved one’s nursing home. Our lawyers are here for you 24/7, and we’re honored to continue serving you as always during the COVID-19 pandemic. Reach out to us at (800) 934-6555 for a free consultation.
New Testing Guidelines Rolled Out
On June 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) introduced new testing guidelines for nursing homes to help slow the spread of COVID-19. It seems that nursing home deaths and total cases of the virus are on the rise, so it is best to ensure that the nursing home where your loved one lives is following these tips. Some of the changes are listed below.
Suggestions for Workers
The CDC recommends taking nursing home workers’ temperatures before the start of every shift. If they show signs of fever or other COVID-19 symptoms, they should be tested promptly and excused from work until the test results come in.
Nursing homes should aim to test all residents for COVID-19. When able, testers should try to complete the tests within 48 hours so that nursing homes can take proper steps to ensure residents’ safety.
Another update is that the CDC does not recommend testing the same person more than once within 24 hours.
Also, nursing homes should test residents who show signs of COVID-19 for similar viruses that may cause those symptoms. For example, they should check for the flu.
Nursing Home Inspections Have Been Inadequate
Even as nursing homes struggle in the COVID-19 pandemic, only a little more than half of the country’s nursing homes were inspected to see if staff were following proper precautionary measures to halt the spread of coronavirus, according to a recent article by Politico.
A Politico survey unearthed several causes for this lack of oversight.
- Many states opted to provide personal protective (PPE) equipment to health workers instead of giving them to inspectors. This delayed in-person checks.
- Some states opted to conduct remote assessments, interviewing people via phone and reviewing documents. Experts believe this is inadequate. It means that inspectors are trusting providers to be honest about taking precautions during the pandemic rather than seeing the facility and noting any lapses for themselves.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services directed state agencies to inspect facilities for infection control practices, such as whether staff wash their hands or wear PPE while taking care of multiple patients. This was done in place of the annual routine inspections stopped by the Trump administration in March.
Infection control surveys released by the government only noted deficiencies in less than 3% of the surveys. A report released by nonprofit patient activist group Center for Medicare Advocacy said they do not believe that these surveys “accurately portray the extent of infection control deficiencies in U.S. nursing facilities.” This is especially true given the rapid spread of coronavirus in nursing homes.
The lack of in-person checks during the pandemic has prevented state authorities from checking for issues that might have quickened the spread of COVID-19. For example, family members couldn’t visit their loved ones, removing another mechanism to observe neglect.
Some States Fared Better
States like Pennsylvania, Idaho, and New Jersey blamed a lack of PPE as a roadblock to finishing their inspections. However, other states with severe coronavirus outbreaks in their nursing homes completed nearly all of their inspections regardless of PPE shortages.
Washington, where the Kirkland Life Care Center was a major epicenter for the spread of coronavirus, completed 99% of its inspections. Michigan, which reported nearly 2,000 deaths in nursing homes, completed nearly 85% of its inspections.
States like West Virginia and Maryland were woefully behind, with only 11.4% and 16.4% of facilities inspected by the end of May.
This has led many to question the explanation offered by states for lagging behind. Medicare and Medicaid administrator Seema Verma has directed states to complete inspection checks by July 31, threatening to cut federal recovery funds if they fail to comply.
Pintas & Mullins Law Firm Is Here for You
At Pintas & Mullins Law Firm, we want to make sure you stay informed during this unprecedented pandemic. Check this blog post weekly for additional updates on restrictions, policies, and other information related to COVID-19 and its effects on nursing homes.
If you suspect that your loved one in a nursing home has been abused, neglected, or exposed to COVID-19 due to malpractice, contact the attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm to discuss your case. We offer a FREE evaluation and can help you learn about the possibility of litigation and compensation for you and your loved one.