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New Problems for Nursing Home Residents During COVID-19

Anne K
October 18, 2020

In April 2020, with the Coronavirus outbreak in full swing, Montreal authorities discovered nursing home residents deceased after all but two members of the staff fled a long-term care facility called >Residence Herron.

Many of those who died – 31 in all – had already been cremated. Surviving residents of the 150-bed nursing home were found dehydrated, lying in filth. They had been denied access to food and water for three days, and deceased patients had been left in their beds.

This scenario might sound like something from a terrifying novel, but it's real – and it's happening at an alarming rate at nursing homes worldwide. In Spain, soldiers tasked with disinfecting nursing homes have discovered people lying in bed,  either dead or abandoned. In the US, long term care facilities in New Jersey, Washington, and other states have been linked with multiple deaths including confirmed coronavirus cases.

Why COVID Complicates Life for Nursing Home Residents?

Although we aren't hearing as many stories of huge outbreaks killing dozens of people at nursing homes as we did at the beginning of the pandemic, COVID Is known to be more devastating to the elderly, and the risk of the virus spreading through nursing homes continues to be a major concern. In many cases, overworked caregivers come into contact with one patient after another, often without adequate PPE. Helping individuals with intimate tasks such as bathing and diaper changes eliminates the measure of safety that social distancing offers.

In an attempt to minimize the risk of transmission, nursing home managers have placed their facilities on tight lockdown. Eliminating visitors does more than create a buffer zone to help keep coronavirus out of long-term care facilities; all too often, it leaves family members out of the loop. Residents are often confused and in many cases, are far lonelier than they were when children and grandchildren could visit.

Nursing Home Abuse Reported Less Due to COVID

Victims of nursing home abuse rarely report their own mistreatment. Instead, watchful visitors notice signs of neglect, physical abuse, and financial abuse, then report their findings to authorities. Some cases are caught by inspectors. With relatives out of the picture and inspectors shut out of nursing homes, new reports reveal that instances of abuse and neglect are going unreported unless residents are able to reach out to law enforcement on their own.

In some cases, facilities attempt to conceal the extent of neglect or prevent loved ones from seeing physical injuries by allowing verbal phone calls only. You’re right to be suspicious if your loved one is no longer allowed access to video conferencing or FaceTime

TIME reported that when staff told residents that they couldn’t provide care due to a lack of PPE, one 76-year old took the initiative, calling police about neglect at the Braintree, Massachusetts nursing home where she lived. In an interview, Penny Shaw said that she was angry that the facility had placed residents and staff in such a precarious position. “They always make poor decisions and they continue to make poor decisions. I have to speak up for myself and other people.”

As illness and death loom large, nursing home residents and their families have increased pressure, suing nursing homes for neglect and abuse as well as for wrongful death.

Nursing homes are fighting back, seeking legal immunity in cases that involve pandemic-related issues including infection control violations and staffing shortages. To date, 18 states have granted some protections to nursing homes and long-term care facilities, and industry leaders are seeking immunity from fault in elder deaths in at 10 more states.

In an interview with TIME, Richard Mollot, executive director of the Long Term Care Community Coalition said that the changes are “basically a license for neglect.” All of a sudden, he said, “You have this just total lack of monitoring and accountability. And then on top of it, you’re taking away even the remote possibility that you could be held legally responsible.”

nursing home abuse

Supporting Loved Ones in Nursing Homes: What You Can Do?

It’s understandable that the spread of COVID is still a major concern. To date, 2 of 5 COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have occurred in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Poor infection control was a problem even before the pandemic: Between 2013 and 2017, a survey showed that 4 in 5 nursing homes were cited for deficiencies surrounding infection prevention and control.

In an attempt to reduce the risk of widespread COVID outbreaks at nursing homes and long-term care facilities, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services took drastic measures including:

  • Strictly limiting visitation
  • Suspending communal dining and stopping group activities for residents
  • Screening residents daily for COVID-19 symptoms including fever
  • Requiring staff to wear masks
  • Offering flexible sick leave policies to staff members
  • Screening everyone who enters long term care facilities

Because prolonged isolation is taking a physical and mental toll on nursing home residents, authorities are easing restrictions. As of October 6, 2020, 43 States and the District of Columbia authorized nursing homes to resume visitation, with strict rules for social distancing, time limits, screening, face coverings, and sanitization in place.

  • If you’re healthy and able to visit in person, consider checking AARP’s map. It shows which states allow visits, which have plans to resume visits soon, and which forbid visits.
  • Visit through a window if you can’t speak in person.
  • Find ways to visit virtually, and check in as often as you can. Old-fashioned phone calls and handwritten notes can ease the burden of loneliness. Connection is more important now than ever before.
  • Talk to the staff. Chat with them on video, and ask to see your loved one up close, particularly if your family member is not able to speak. Look for signs like unexplained weight loss, bruises, bedsores, broken glasses, and eye injuries. If staff refuse to allow you to lay eyes on your loved one, it’s quite possible that abuse is occurring.

If you have concerns about nursing home abuse or neglect, consider speaking with a lawyer who specializes in this area of law. They can address your concerns and help you protect your loved one by advocating for their legal rights.

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We are here to help you and loved ones advocate for justice. Feel free to send us any questions you might have, either about an injury or the process for pursuing justice so we can help you exercise your rights.

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© Copyright Jazz Media Ltd. 2020. All rights reserved