How Nursing Homes Violated Resident Rights in the COVID-19 Response
Nursing home residents have been hit harder by COVID-19 than any other segment of the population. The compromised immune systems of residents and the tight confines of most facilities make nursing homes a breeding ground for viral infections, which is a major issue come flu season. This has also contributed to the spread of COVID-19 across the country in nursing homes where large outbreaks occurred.
A significant factor in this crisis is the failure of nursing homes to respond to COVID-19 correctly and the violations of federal guidelines. Many did not successfully isolate residents who had been exposed to the virus and did not emergency response plans that are in place for such outbreaks. Inspections conducted by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have revealed that the failed practices of nursing home facilities may have contributed to many residents and staff contracting the virus.
Nursing Home Negligence During the Coronavirus Outbreak
Nursing homes account for more than one-third of all COVID-19 deaths in the United States, as reported by the New York Times. As of May 11, 2020, the virus had infected more than 153,000 people in 7,700 facilities and killed at least 28,100 residents and workers. In addition, federal inspection reports revealed that nine nursing homes put residents in immediate jeopardy with actions that contributed to the lethal spread of the coronavirus, according to an article on ProPublica.
These facilities received citations for:
- Failure to maintain social distancing among residents
- Lack of personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Inadequate staff to deal with the crisis
- Failure to take immediate action when residents showed symptoms of COVID-19
The federal government has focused primarily on inspections related to infection control and the investigation of the most serious complaints. In order to limit the spread of the virus, officials have restricted visitation by family members, nonessential healthcare providers, and long-term care ombudsmen. The government has also instructed nursing home facilities to cancel group activities and communal dining, and to screen residents and staff for fevers and other symptoms of COVID-19. However, many of these efforts came too late, as seen by the alarming rise in infections among residents across the country.
Proper Nursing Home Practices
Nursing homes are required to abide by strict policies regarding resident health and safety, as outlined by the Residents’ Bill of Rights, which includes developing and implementing an Infection Prevention and Control Program (IPCP). IPCP’s are designed to prevent outbreaks among nursing home residents by having clear guidelines for how to respond to sick patients, sanitation and hygiene practices, and quarantine plans. These plans should be developed by administrators in accordance with public health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. With such a plan in place, a nursing home could effectively prevent large-scale outbreaks, however very few nursing homes had plans in place at the time of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States.
Many health officials agree that these plans can help prevent outbreaks and residents’ deaths by requiring staff to:
- Stay home when feeling ill
- Practice proper cough hygiene
- Clean and disinfect medical equipment between treatments
- Wear facemasks, gloves, and personal protective equipment
- Wash their hands or using hand sanitizer after contact with a resident, using medical equipment, or removing masks, gowns, or gloves
- Clean residents’ hands before eating or using a restroom
- Provide alcohol-based hand sanitizer in all resident care areas, including residents’ rooms
- Follow the IPCP to limit the spread of the virus
Failing to implement such guidelines and develop an IPCP can make a nursing home liable for injuries sustained by residents during the COVID-19 outbreak. The disease has shown to be extremely aggressive towards elderly patients, often resulting in death, and even those who do survive may be at risk for strokes, lung injuries, and other health issues for the rest of their lives.
Nursing Homes Seeking Immunity from Lawsuits
Family members of residents who became seriously ill or died from exposure to COVID-19 have begun to file suits against nursing homes for abuse, neglect, and wrongful death. In response, the nursing home industry has launched a lobbying campaign to secure immunity from legal actions. The industry claims it needs this protection is so staff can do their jobs—however, this is a complete dismissal of the issue.
Nursing homes were required to have IPCP’s in place long before the COVID-19 outbreak and should have been prepared for such a scenario. If they had followed all federal and state guidelines prior to the outbreak, residents and their family members would not be seeking claims against them. Thus, based on federal regulations, it is possible to seek damages against a nursing home for neglect if they failed to properly respond to the COVID-19 outbreak and allowed a patient to become ill or die from an infection.
Compassionate and Thorough Representation
Moving forward with a claim against a nursing home is not an easy task without a thorough understanding of nursing home regulations—both federal and state—and an-in-depth investigation of the facility. To ensure you or your loved one receive proper compensation following a COVID-19 outbreak at a nursing home, you will need the aid of a skilled attorney to review your case and hold the at-fault nursing home to their policies. At Bottlinger Law L.L.C., our Omaha nursing home abuse attorney can provide sound legal advice to residents and their families about not only their rights but also how to file a claim for damages. If your elderly loved one has become seriously ill or died because of COVID-19 exposure in a nursing home, call us (402) 505-8234 to schedule a free consultation.
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