Articles Posted in COVID-19

The arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic has combined with other economic factors to cause an employment shortage in hundreds of industries worldwide. Healthcare is most likely the hardest-hit industry by Covid-19 related staffing shortages. Within the healthcare industry, nursing homes and long-term elder-care facilities suffer from some of the worst staffing shortages on record. Understaffed nursing homes and long-term care facilities result in increased instances of abuse, neglect, and even sometimes-fatal medical malpractice. In an effort to address the chronic nationwide staffing shortages in nursing homes, the U.S. Federal Government has announced plans to enforce national minimum staffing guidelines for nursing homes and other similarly situated facilities.

According to a recently aired national public radio broadcast, the staffing shortages at several nursing homes have become a dangerous problem. The increased risks and workloads presented by the pandemic have made nursing home jobs less desirable. Employers nationwide, including nursing home administrators, are reluctant to increase employee compensation out of a fear that paying more will cut into the companies’ profits. In response to the shortages, the Biden administration has initiated plans to use the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to implement minimum staffing requirements to ensure that the staff is adequate to ensure quality. According to the report, the changes should go into effect within a year.

How Does the Nursing Home Staffing Shortage Impact Residents?

Nursing home residents and their families have the right to adequate care that meets industry standards for such care. The staffing shortages over the last two years have resulted in increasing instances of concern in nursing homes nationwide. Observers have noted increases in bedsores, excessive weight loss, high rates of Covid-19 infection, as well as widespread overprescription of antipsychotic medications to control resident behavior. Residents who have received these types of substandard care, or suffered other acts of neglect, abuse, or malpractice, may be entitled to financial damages for their loss and suffering. A qualified Maryland, D.C., and Virginia area medical malpractice attorney can help victims pursue a case for damages.

Some experts have estimated that over 1 million Americans have died from the virus that causes Covid-19. Hospitals, nursing homes, and medical providers are not responsible for keeping all patients alive and well during a deadly pandemic, as that would not be possible. Although medical providers are not legally responsible for every death that happens on their watch, if an injury or death is caused, worsened, or not prevented because a medical provider acts negligently, then the injured party or their representatives may have a claim for damages. A recently published news report discusses one such case, in which the family of a woman who died of Covid-19 while living at a nursing home has sued the nursing home for wrongful death.

The plaintiffs in the recently decided case are the relatives of a 65-year-old woman who died of Covid-19 in April of 2020 while residing at a New York nursing home that is operated by the defendant. According to the facts discussed in the plaintiffs’ complaint, the defendant failed to uphold the proper standard of care in treating the patient. Specifically, the complaint alleges that there was an unreasonable delay in diagnosing the patient and that once the diagnosis was made, the nursing home negligently failed to give her the proper treatment for the disease. The complaint alleges that the nursing home’s negligence in failing to properly treat the patient was the ultimate cause of her death.

In response to the plaintiff’s lawsuit, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss, claiming that as a medical provider in a Covid-19 related case, they were immune from suit based on a law passed in 2020 by the state legislature. In response, the plaintiff argued that the immunity law was repealed in 2021 and that the repeal applies retroactively to acts of negligence that occurred in 2020. Because the law was in fact repealed, the court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, and the suit will proceed toward trial.

The last couple of years has been extremely difficult for much of America. The nursing home industry is no exception. Starting with the COVID-19 pandemic in early-2020 all the way up through today, nursing homes are having an increasingly difficult time providing adequate care for their many residents. Not surprisingly, the instances of nursing home abuse and neglect are also increasing, as those that remain on staff in long-term care facilities are overworked. Despite these challenges, a nursing home’s duty to its residents does not change and when a nursing home fails to provide the necessary level of care—for whatever reason—residents and their families can take legal action against the facility.

An all-too-common example of what many families are experiencing comes from a recent news report. A woman noticed a sharp decline in the quality of care her mother was receiving. At first, it was smaller things, but when her mother contracted COVID-19 and things didn’t seem to improve, she called the police. Police officers arrived and arranged to have the elderly woman transferred to a nearby hospital. The woman is in stable condition.

Continuing their investigation, police officers then tried to call the facility to learn more about what was going on behind closed doors. No one picked up. Eventually, police contacted the local Department of Health, which opened an investigation into the facility. All new admissions into the nursing home were also frozen.

If you have decided to send your loved one to a Maryland nursing home in the near future or have already done so, then you understand the difficulty of making such a decision. Conducting thorough research into the options near you and ensuring that your loved ones are receiving quality care at the facility you choose can be really stressful—especially if there is no information available for you to reference to make an informed decision.

According to a recent report, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that it would begin to report weekend staffing and staff turnover for nursing homes with greater transparency. Information on weekend staffing, such as the numbers of registered nurses and the total number of nurses in general working on the weekends at each nursing home over a quarter will be publicly available on a website. Details about total nurse turnover, the percentage of nursing staff that stopped working at a nursing home, and the number of administrators who stopped working at a nursing home over a 12 month period will also be made available.

For consumers, this data will be important for a number of reasons. First, having access to a nursing home’s staffing environment can be important for determining the quality of care your loved ones will receive. At facilities with low turnover rates, for example, it is more likely that the quality of care will be higher, and the overall residential experience will be better. Low turnover rates in nursing homes are also typically correlated to higher nursing home ratings.

As we approach two years into the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s easy to forget that the first wave of the pandemic struck nursing homes and long-term care facilities extremely hard. The risk factors for severe cases of Covid-19 correspond with the nature of the nursing home industry. Elderly, disabled, and often immunocompromised individuals are housed together in confined areas, while undertrained and underpaid employees often commute from other areas to care for the residents.

Although the nature of nursing home care helps explain why the pandemic hit nursing homes so hard, this explanation is not always enough to justify some of the negligent care that nursing home residents have endured throughout the pandemic. A recently published news report discussing a nursing home that continues to operate after having 83 residents die from covid in the last two years suggests that some nursing homes are violating a duty of care to their patients by failing to protect them from infection.

According to the local news report, the nursing home in question, located in New Jersey, was subject to complaints from residents and family even before the pandemic. Family members of former residents allege that the conditions in 2019 were unhygienic and that the employees were improperly trained to care for the residents. Once the pandemic hit, the consequences of improper care were exacerbated, as family members of former residents claim that the administration of the home was inaccessible to loved ones and that sick and healthy people were commingled, encouraging infections to spread. At the time the article was published, 83 residents of the nursing home had died from Covid-19, and another 25 residents were currently sick with the virus.

In light of the emergence of the new Omicron variant of Covid-19, Maryland nursing homes should take steps to prevent and reduce the likelihood of transmission amongst staff and residents. While people hoped that nursing homes and assisted living facilities have honed their strategies to keep the spread in check, the reality is that many of these facilities fail to engage in a flexible and adaptive approach to virus prevention. Some approach Maryland nursing homes can take include:

  • Encourage vaccination;
  • Consider local transmission rates in decision-making processes;
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