The spread of the coronavirus has shone a light on America’s most vulnerable populations, namely seniors in nursing homes. In New Mexico, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) collected the efforts of the state’s nursing homes to prevent the spread of disease. The data reveal disturbing trends.

CMS recorded that nearly each of New Mexico’s 71 nursing homes defied regulations to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. This neglect has devastating consequences for New Mexico.

CMS recorded two years of deficiencies

Combing through the data, investigative journalists at Searchlight New Mexico CMS found that 85% of nursing homes in the state “failed to provide and implement an infection prevention and control program.” Many violations occurred within the last two years, rendering these facilities particularly vulnerable to the 2020 pandemic.

In over half of these cases, state health inspectors certified corrections to the faulty practices, only to find the same problems again in following inspections. Most of the violations were sanitary, indicating an employee’s failure to wash their hands or mishandling of dirty and contaminated laundry. Before the 2020 pandemic, these minor infractions rarely incurred even a fine. Now, health officials see the grave consequences of these supposedly minor mistakes.

As of May 4, 14 of 15 nursing homes with reported coronavirus cases received citations for violations. The outlier is a newer facility that inspectors did not yet evaluate. Since March, CMS officials have focused exclusively on violations specific to spreading infectious disease, but many critics believe these measures come too late. Health care workers believe this disregard for regulations stems from a lack of personnel, not a lack of concern for patients.

Nursing homes in New Mexico are notoriously understaffed, requiring caretakers to rush from patient to patient without time to sanitize between treatments. Deeper investigations reveal that genesis Healthcare, New Mexico’s leading for-profit chain of nursing homes, does not adhere to the federal staffing guidelines for nursing homes. They hire staff based on the population counts of homes rather than their relevant medical needs.

Victims can seek legal recourse with help from a lawyer

Families of loved ones stuck in dangerous eldercare situations can reach out to a local attorney familiar with elder law for help. A lawyer can review a claim and help vet possible solutions and legal recourse. Legal action is one of the most effective ways to help represent the often invisible senior community.