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Can You Keep Loved Ones in Nursing Homes Safe During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

05/18/2020
Medical Malpractice
BY

Loved Ones at Risk

This can be a difficult time to have a loved one in a nursing home or assisted living facility. Given the communal nature of these facilities and the fact that their resident population is largely composed of elderly adults, many of whom have chronic underlying medical conditions, nursing home populations are at the highest risk of being affected by COVID-19. Following CDC guidance, many nursing homes have ceased visitation. In some cities, this has resulted in reports of people shouting through walls and windows to their parents inside the facility. It is hard to know in these times how we can best protect our loved ones. However, we have compiled some tips based on state and federal guidelines.

Current State and Federal Guidelines

The federal government recommends that all nursing homes prohibit visitors in order to reduce exposure of the virus to vulnerable resident populations. On March 15, Florida issued an emergency order prohibiting all individuals from entering nursing homes and assisted living facilities. While it can be frustrating to be unable to see our loved ones face-to-face, it is important to support the facilities in complying with these guidelines so that we can all keep the residents inside safe. Of course, that approach works only if the nursing home competently and caringly does their job.  

Talk to the Facility

Communication is key, and it is important to know the right questions to ask in order to get a sense of whether your loved one is safe in the facility. Although you may have many concerned family members, it is advisable to designate one family member to communicate with the facility, if possible, and consider asking questions such as the following:

  • Has anyone at the facility tested positive for COVID-19?
  • Is testing available for staff members who are exhibiting symptoms?
  • What is your sick-leave policy for staff members? The CDC recommends that facilities implement sick leave policies that are non-punitive, flexible, and consistent with public health policies. In short, employees should be able to stay home if they are sick without being punished or fear of losing their job. Ideally, facilities would encourage employees exhibiting symptoms or who believe they have been exposed to COVID-19 to stay home or offer paid sick leave.
  • What protocols have you put in place to protect residents? The CDC has provided extensive recommendations for nursing homes to implement.
  • Is the facility in need of any items?
  • Can residents still receive mail and/or packages?

Previous Citations

The CDC has released extensive guidance for nursing homes and assisted living facilities advising them of necessary precautions. However, it is now coming to light that many nursing homes with publicly reported cases of COVID-19, have been previously cited for violating federal infection-control standards within the last four years. In fact, according to the Washington Post, 40% of the 650+ nursing homes across the country with reported cases of the virus had a record of such violations.

Hundreds of violations were issued to nursing homes for conditions that could encourage the spread of viruses, and a number of the homes were flagged by inspectors shortly before the outbreak of COVID-19. One of the nursing homes identified was the Brighton Rehabilitation and Wellness Center (Pennsylvania), where it is now reported that all 750 residents and staff could be positive for COVID-19.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to find a nursing home with a long track record of safety violations. This can be powerful evidence in a personal injury or wrongful death claim. When an elder care facility has a history of following safety policies and regulations intended to protect its residents, the court will often allow this evidence to be presented to a jury.  

No Signs of Improvement

At least 36 nursing homes in Palm Beach County have at least one publicly reported case of COVID-19 in their facility. New data released by the Florida Department of Health, shows a rapid and startling increase in nursing home fatalities related to COVID-19 over the past week. In fact, the data reflects that 60% of all COVID-19-related deaths in Florida last week were nursing home fatalities. The data reflected a grim and sobering total of 665 COVID-19 deaths at nursing home facilities. That number increased by 242 deaths compared to the previous weeks’ numbers.

Are You Concerned About Your Loved One’s Nursing Home?

For a free consultation, please contact Attorney Andrea Lewis at (561) 686-6300 or alewis@searcylaw.com.

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