Around 40 percent of COVID-19 (coronavirus) related deaths in the United States have occurred in nursing homes. Nursing home residents and staff account for a startling 68,000 deaths. Now, families and advocates are questioning whether these deaths could have been prevented.
The stories are heart wrenching.
In Bexar County, Texas, a 79-year-old nursing home resident died after testing positive for the coronavirus. During the weeks that he was sick, the nursing home told his family that he was doing well and did not have symptoms. He was never taken to a hospital. In the hours before he died, nursing home staff told his family that he was “doing fine.”
They have since filed a lawsuit claiming that he did not receive proper medical care. According to the lawsuit, that particular nursing home has a bad safety record. The facility is chronically understaffed and has received numerous citations for infection control violations. At this nursing home, at least 18 residents and one staff member developed coronavirus and later died. That is the highest rate of any facility in San Antonio.
This is just one example of how Texas nursing homes continue to struggle in providing quality care while mitigating coronavirus outbreaks.
Could Coronavirus Nursing Home Deaths Have Been Prevented?
We all know that coronavirus spreads easily in hospitals and nursing homes. Elderly individuals are also more vulnerable to the virus. This has made nursing homes a haven for outbreaks. But were these outbreaks inevitable?
The nursing home industry had months of warnings from officials about the rising number of cases of coronavirus in the U.S. Once the first nursing home in Seattle reported a severe outbreak, facilities across the U.S. had a major opportunity to prepare. But did they?
Nursing homes have struggled throughout the coronavirus pandemic to obtain basic assistance and equipment. Nursing home staff has struggled to find personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing supplies. Staffing shortages have made it difficult to properly execute infection control policies.
A new article in The New York Times suggests that many coronavirus nursing home deaths could have been prevented had the federal government stepped in and ensured that long-term care facilities had the same level of support as hospitals. The article states,
“Responsibility for the nation’s disastrous coronavirus response rests largely with the federal government — which left states, cities and institutions scrambling to set social distancing policies, secure equipment and effectively test and trace enough people to stop the virus from spreading. But in nursing homes, those broader failures have been compounded by several long-brewing problems of the industry’s own making.”
Longstanding Problems Contribute to Coronavirus Nursing Home Deaths
Around 70 percent of U.S. nursing homes are for-profit. In an effort to save money, many of these companies have compromised staffing and care. Staffing levels have dropped and quality of care is diminished.
A recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) seems to support this idea. The report found that around half of U.S. nursing homes,
“routinely violate infection-control standards, including those involving the isolation of sick residents.”
A ProPublica investigation also found that 43 percent of nursing homes did not have legally mandated emergency response plans in place when the coronavirus pandemic began. Facilities that did attempt to initiate safety and testing requirements then struggled with accessing equipment and supplies.
David Grabowski, a health care policy expert at Harvard Medical School says,
“Before you can hold facilities to testing requirements or mandate the use of personal protective equipment, you have to ensure that they can actually access those things.”
There is currently no nationalized supply chain for PPE or testing supplies for nursing homes. The facilities that need them most continue to struggle to get them. Compounded with a staffing shortage that is almost at crisis level, and nursing homes are facing a bleak outlook.
Is the Nursing Home Industry Listening?
The federal government has given the nursing home industry billions of dollars in emergency aid since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. A lot of that money has gone to facilities that have terrible safety records and a history of violations. Operators of private nursing homes have reportedly used these funds for activities outside of securing the safety of nursing home residents. Some funds have even gone to lobbying efforts for additional funding and policies that are more favorable to the industry.
One of the most alarming policies that the nursing home industry is pushing for is complete immunity from malpractice or wrongful death lawsuits from 2019 through 2024. This policy would include cases related to coronavirus nursing home deaths. The suggested goal of the policy is to “prevent struggling homes from collapsing under the weight of litigation.”
Safety advocates say that the way to avoid litigation is simple – help nursing homes protect residents from dying needlessly. Instead, the nursing home industry seems to be facing less accountability, rather than more.
Sadly, despite obvious deficiencies, the federal government has actually made concessions for the nursing home industry. Smaller fines, lower taxes, relaxed training requirements and rolling back on infection control policies have created a perfect storm for outbreaks.
Help for Families with Nursing Home Concerns
During this uncertain time, many families are not sure where to turn for help when they have concerns about nursing home care. That is why Nursing Home Abuse Center is here. We are dedicated to helping families protect their loved ones in nursing homes. We can help you understand your legal rights, and the best options for keeping your loved one safe.
If your loved one is the victim of nursing home abuse or neglect, we can also advise you on the best way to proceed. Abuse and neglect should never happen. When it does, those responsible must be held accountable.
If you have questions or concerns about coronavirus nursing home deaths, nursing home abuse or neglect, or how to get help for your loved one, contact us. For a free consultation, call 1-866-548-9636.