Nursing Home Negligence and COVID-19
As of early August, nursing home residents and workers accounted for 8% of the nation’s total confirmed COVID-19 cases. Yet, they accounted for a whopping 41% of all COVID-19-related deaths. To say that nursing home residents are at high risk for developing complications from the virus and, worse, dying from it, is an understatement. Many families have concerns, and rightly so, that negligence could play a role in their loved ones contracting COVID-19 in a nursing home.
While a few different factors contribute to these startling statistics—including close living quarters, confined environments, staff that come and go, staff that move from room to room and, of course, a high number of elderly persons—many families wonder if more could have been done to protect their loved ones. Could stricter screening measures have reduced the transmission rate? Would a higher level of care have prevented so many deaths? The overwhelming impact of the virus on nursing home residents has, in short, caused many to question the legal accountability of nursing homes during the pandemic and what, if any, liability should they face as a result of negligent care.
What Measures Should Nursing Homes Take To Keep Residents Safe?
In the early days of the virus, the CDC and other health organizations understood little to nothing about it. Nursing home facilities, like the rest of the world, were scrambling to protect its residents. Unfortunately, with little information to work off of, they had no idea what true protection looked like. This is no longer the case.
Since March, the CDC has developed guidelines for reducing negligence and preventing the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Key strategies such establishments must implement are as follows:
Prevent the Virus From Entering the Facility
Nursing homes are advised to limit all visitors, volunteers and non-essential personnel from entering the home. They should cancel all out-of-home outings for the time being and screen anyone who enters the facility for fever, cough and other symptoms.
Screen for Infections and Identify Them Early On
Staff should actively monitor residents and workers for symptoms of the virus. If a resident shows signs of COVID, the facility should isolate him or her from other residents. The facility should follow the CDC’s recommendations and notify the state or local health department.
Prevent the Spread of COVID-19
To prevent the spread of the virus, facilities must cancel all group activities, enforce social distancing, suspend communal dining and enforce the use of face masks. If a facility has a possible or confirmed case, it should restrict residents to a single unit or wing. Staff who care for sick patients must wear appropriate personal protective equipment.
Optimize the Supply of PPE
Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities should routinely assess their supplies of personal protective equipment. When it begins to run low, the CDC encourages them to contact their local or state health departments.
Create a Separate Space for COVID-19 Patients
Facilities should identify a separate wing or unit for residents who have symptoms of COVID-19 or who have tested positive. Staff should monitor these residents frequently, document their vitals and ensure they receive adequate care.
If you believe that the facility in which your loved one lives is not adhering to the above guidelines, report your concerns to a local health department. Have you recently lost a loved one because the facility failed to follow the strict guidelines? It may be in your family’s best interests to contact an attorney who deals with nursing home negligence and COVID-19.
Can You Sue a Nursing Home for Negligent Care?
Prior to COVID-19, families of nursing home residents could sue facilities for neglect and abuse when a resident sustained a preventable injury, contracted a preventable illness or passed away unexpectedly despite being in relatively good health. This is still true in many cases. Unfortunately, however, you may have a hard time winning a claim for nursing home neglect as it relates to COVID-19.
It is true that nursing homes were hit particularly hard by the virus. But in many cases, this has nothing to do with neglect and everything to do with the nature of the facilities and the virus itself. An asymptomatic staff member may unwittingly transmit the virus to a resident. They can then spread it to others throughout the facility before symptoms become evident. When a resident has a confirmed case, the facility may go above and beyond to care for him or her and prevent complications. However, because elderly persons are particularly susceptible to complications, the resident may pass away regardless. Each of these factors may make it extremely difficult to prove that neglect is the reason for an outbreak and/or the cause of death.
Moreover, many states have passed immunity laws that protect nursing home and long-term care facilities against COVID-19-related lawsuits. Some states may not have included the term “nursing home” in its immunity law’s language. Instead, they provide a broad shield to health care facilities in general. Often times, states lump nursing homes into this category.
All that said, even if your state does not have immunity laws protecting nursing homes, you may still have difficulty finding an attorney who will represent you, as your odds of prevailing in such a case are slim. However, if obvious signs point to neglect—such as the fact that your loved one’s facility has a 90% infection rate while the facility down the road has a 5% rate—you may have a case.
What Is the Purpose of Filing a Lawsuit?
If you recently lost an elderly loved one due to COVID-19, you may wonder how filing a lawsuit can help. Though a lawsuit will not bring your loved one back, it can do several things for you and your family:
- Recover funeral and medical costs
- Recover the cost of residency
- Pay for pain and suffering
- Compensate your family for mental trauma
- Recover lost income (for family members who need to respond to the crisis)
Ultimately, however, a lawsuit can hold the nursing facility accountable for neglect and serve as justice for your loved one.
Work With an Experienced Nursing Home Neglect Lawyer
Prevailing in a lawsuit involving nursing home neglect and COVID-19 will not be easy, but it is not impossible. To boost your odds of winning your claim, work with an attorney who has experience with both nursing home neglect and the virus. Submit a request online or call us today at (866) 345-6784 to get in touch with an experienced attorney in your area!