“What are we doing today that may be permanently abridging the rights of people in nursing home facilities?” asked a vice president for AARP.
It’s a crucial question, even as the Coronavirus rages through nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Initial attempts at containment were reactive and ad hoc, according to some health officials.
Now, a sense of what will be done to control the spread of the virus is emerging. Most facilities have cut off visitation by families altogether, are screening residents and staff and are isolating any residents who test positive, sometimes in coronavirus-only units.
The possibilities for tragedy are immense. In at least one nursing home, staff was simply overwhelmed by the number of people dying. The virus simply spread like wildfire, bringing losses that the facility was not equipped to handle. Out of desperation, staff began storing the bodies in a shed.
In one California facility, there simply wasn’t enough staff to care for the residents for two days in a row. Registered nurses and licensed vocational nurses were sent in to help, but ultimately 83 patients had to be evacuated to other facilities. It was not immediately clear why the staff failed to show, but Kaiser Permanente said the situation could rise to the level of abandonment.
Staffing woes are nothing new, and every facility has the legal duty to retain enough staff to cover emergencies. This remains true during the coronavirus pandemic — even if a large proportion of staff becomes ill.
Adding to the confusion of the response have been different strategies taken by different states. Some states are identifying stricken facilities and releasing the names of COVID-positive patients. Others are withholding such data, citing patient health and safety, if not confidentiality.
Some advocates have argued that some guidance from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services have limited transparency even as it cut off visitor access. This could allow abuse and neglect to take place with less oversight than usual.
On top of all the confusion of differing strategies and policy recommendations, it is not clear how long these temporary policies will remain in effect.
During this crisis, it is crucial to stay involved in your loved one’s care. Closely monitor the situation and find out whether reasonable staffing levels are present, whether new and different staff understand how to comply with patient safety laws and whether the facility risks allowing abandonment of sick patients.
If you suspect your loved one is being neglected or abused during the COVID-19 crisis, the time to act is now. Contact an attorney experienced with nursing home issues for a discussion of your options.