While the COVID-19 pandemic has had its effects on everyone, those in nursing homes are one of the groups at the highest risk of infection. Close quarters, necessary medical interventions, and poor mitigation tactics make long-term care facilities breeding grounds for viruses—especially one with the infectious rate that the coronavirus has.
As a result of the virus, according to the Associated Press (AP), we’re seeing an increase in nursing home neglect reports. There are a number of reasons this could be happening, which we’ll examine below. First, let’s start by taking a look at what residents and their family members have experienced in and out of nursing homes since the start of the pandemic.
Horror Stories From Residents and Their Loved Ones
When COVID-19 spread through Donald Wallace’s nursing home, West Hill Heath and Rehab in Birmingham, the 75-year-old retired Alabama truck driver was able to avoid infection but still died. He was so malnourished and dehydrated that he dropped to 98 pounds. While his cause of death was not confirmed, septic shock suggested an untreated UTI, E. coli in his body suggested poor hygiene, and aspiration pneumonia indicated that Wallace had likely choked on his food.
This is not the only story of neglect resulting in the death of a nursing home resident. More than 90,000 long-term care residents have died during the pandemic, but it now seems tens of thousands more have also succumbed due to burnt-out workers who haven’t been able to provide them with the necessary care.
On New York’s Long Island, Carolyn Best, an 83-year-old resident at Gurwin Jewish Nursing Home, received proper care, enjoyed activities, and had a good relationship with the staff. When the lockdown began, Best appeared to her daughter on a scheduled FaceTime call with her eyes closed, flailing, repeating “no.” Hours later, a frantic doctor called the daughter back to inform her that COVID-19 was rampant in the facility and Best was likely infected. But Best never contracted the virus. Instead, she died from dehydration.
Analyzing Nursing Home Neglect Data
According to a nursing home expert who analyzed data from the country’s 15,000 care facilities for the AP, it seems that for every two COVID-19 victims in long-term care, another died prematurely of other causes. Those deaths could total more than 40,000 since March.
Stephen Kay, a professor at the Institute of Health and Aging at the University of California, San Francisco, believes the problem is systematic: “The healthcare system operates kind of on the edge, just on the margin, so that if there’s a crisis, we can’t cope. There are not enough people to look after the nursing home residents.”
When comparing mortality rates with facilities that were hit with COVID-19 versus those that were spared, the more the virus spread through a home, the greater the number of deaths recorded for other reasons. For example, in homes where at least three out of ten residents had the virus, the rate of death for reasons besides the virus was double what would be expected without a pandemic.
The Dangers of Understaffing
According to the nursing home trade group American Health Care Association, widespread COVID-19 outbreaks have not impacted staff members’ ability to care for residents. Dr. David Gifford, the group’s chief medical officer, noted the challenges the pandemic has created but believes that staffing levels have improved because of a drop in new admissions.
Mairead Painter, Connecticut’s long-term ombudsman, however, sees things differently. According to her, with dentists closed, poorly fitting dentures went unfixed, leading to malnutrition; and with podiatrists closed, toenails went untrimmed, posing painful conditions are residents with diabetes. With loved ones and family members losing access to homes, aides were tasks with working tough shifts for little pay: “I don’t think anyone really understood how much time friends and family, volunteers and other people spent in the nursing home and supplemented that hands-on care.”
Cheryl Hennen, Minnesota’s long-term care ombudsmen, noted dozens of complaints filed for bedsores, dehydration, weight loss, and other examples of neglect at a number of facilities. While some families are looking to take legal action against allegedly neglect facilities, laws around the country granting nursing homes broad immunity from laws during the pandemic are getting in the way.
If you’ve lost a loved one in their nursing home and believe neglect played a role in their passing, it’s important to understand your legal rights and options. You may be able to pursue a claim on their behalf to hold their facility accountable for what happened. The sooner you get in touch with a lawyer, the better. Schedule a case evaluation with Thomas Law Offices today.