As COVID-19 continues its deadly assault in nursing homes, evidence is mounting that the virus’s death toll extends far beyond those who actually become infected. Grieving families are coming forward with their personal stories of how their loved ones escaped the virus ― but died horrible deaths from neglect ― as long-term care facilities struggle to keep up with the pandemic.
In a report published in mid-November, the Associated Press (AP) released the findings of a nursing home expert who analyzed data from the country’s 15,000 facilities at the news agency’s request. The expert estimated that for every two COVID-19 victims in long-term care, there is another victim who died prematurely of other causes.
Since March, there have been more than 40,000 “excess deaths” beyond the normal rate of fatalities in nursing homes, according to the AP. This represents roughly 15 percent more deaths than in a typical year.
When the expert compared mortality rates at facilities struck by COVID-19 with those that were spared, he found that the greater the rate of infection, the greater the number of deaths recorded for other reasons. For example, in facilities where at least three in 10 residents had the virus, the rate of death for reasons unrelated to the virus was double what would be expected without a pandemic.
The clear implication is that as nursing homes battle COVID-19, they are failing to provide necessary care to their vulnerable residents who are unable to care for themselves. The problem is compounded by the staffing shortages that often pre-existed the pandemic but worsened when workers tested positive or needed to quarantine. Indeed, according to data provided by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), for the four-week period ending on Oct. 18, 2020, in the U.S. there were 2.7 new confirmed nursing home staff cases of COVID-19 per 100 residents. For that same period, 27.6 percent of nursing homes had a shortage of direct-care workers, including nurses and aides.
Signs of potential nursing home abuse and neglect include:
The list, however, cannot begin to describe the immense suffering endured by seniors when nurses, nurse aides, doctors, and others responsible for their care essentially abandon them. The Associated Press detailed several tragedies involving nursing home residents who were lucky enough to avoid COVID-19, but died horrible deaths anyway. They include:
Even before the pandemic, nursing home neglect was a problem. A 2019 report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, estimates that in 2016, one in five high-risk hospital ER Medicare claims potentially resulted from the abuse or neglect of a resident in a skilled nursing facility. While the statistic is sad, it reflects normal times when dedicated family members could visit their loved ones frequently, help care for them, and be on the lookout for anything amiss.
But these aren’t normal times. With nursing homes mostly locked down to visitors since March, family members can no longer serve as the first line of defense against neglect. Even when relatives have stayed connected with their loved ones via technologies such as FaceTime, Zoom or Skype, there is only so much that can be gleaned from the screen of an electronic device. Relatives can’t see or smell poor hygiene, skin breakdowns or soiled sheets, to name some examples.
Andrew K. Mitnick, a partner at Feldman Shepherd Wohlgelernter Tanner Weinstock Dodig LLP, whose practice includes nursing home and long-term care facility neglect and abuse, said that nursing homes have a legal duty to properly care for all residents ― including those who don’t have COVID-19 ― and they cannot hide behind the extra demands created by the pandemic as an excuse for escaping responsibility when improper care is delivered.
“Unfortunately, what we frequently see is that the nursing home industry, rather than rising up to meet these challenges, has instead focused efforts on lobbying politicians to pass new laws that will prevent nursing homes from being sued and held accountable for abuse and neglect. Protecting profits, not patients, is simply intolerable.” Mitnick said.
Mitnick recommends contacting a nursing home and long-term care abuse attorney immediately if you believe your loved one has been seriously injured or killed by a nursing home’s inadequate care to ensure that the victim’s and family’s legal rights are protected.
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