Articles Posted in Nursing Home News

Although there has been significant attention given to the risk and prevalence of COVID-19 in nursing homes throughout the pandemic, the pandemic may be the cause other detrimental circumstances suffered by Maryland nursing home residents. According to one news source, advocates say that workers in nursing homes that are overburdened because of the pandemic have not been able to properly care for residents and that many are suffering as a result. Advocates say that there has been a surge of reports of neglect, including residents being left in dirty diapers until their skin peeled off and others with bedsores that cut to the bone. In addition, some residents’ mental health has significantly declined because of their prolonged isolation, which some believed led to their death. One expert estimated that for every two COVID-19 victims in nursing homes, another died prematurely due to other causes.

The numbers suggest that other residents who were lucky enough not to contract COVID-19, were also impacted—as staff attended to infected residents or because staff members were absent because they were infected themselves. A 75-year-old man became so malnourished and dehydrated that his weight dropped to 98 pounds. There were signs of an untreated urinary infection, poor hygiene, and that he was not getting the help he needed to eat. His son claims that the nursing home abandoned his father. An 83-year-old woman in another nursing home died from dehydration, according to her daughter. As COVID-19 spread throughout her facility, while she did not contract COVID-19 herself, staff members failed to ensure she was drinking enough fluids. Federal data reveals that almost 1 in 4 nursing homes report staff shortages now in 20 states.

The Rights of Maryland Nursing Home Residents

A Maryland nursing home resident has the right to be free from abuse and neglect and live in a safe facility. A Maryland nursing home claim can be filed in cases where nursing homes or their staff have abused or neglected a resident. Some potential signs of abuse and neglect are bedsores, unexplained injuries, insufficient funds, and fear of certain persons. Signs of neglect may include poor personal hygiene, lack of mobility, unexplained injuries, unsanitary living conditions and inadequate security, physical symptoms from lack of nutrition, and psychological issues, including anger, resentment, and depression.

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Maryland nursing homes must meet certain standards under state and federal regulations. They must follow state laws and regulations applicable to nursing homes. In addition, facilities that accept Medicare and Medicaid patients are also required to meet federal nursing home standards. Federal and state regulators ensure compliance by conducting surveys, visits, and investigations.

According to a recent news report, the Democratic candidate for president Joe Biden has said that he plans to spend $775 billion to expand community-based senior services if elected. He also wants to enact nursing home reform in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The current administration has generally maintained less oversight with a goal of reducing perceived paperwork burdens and focusing on public-private partnerships to tackle issues. For example, the administration plans to rely on retail pharmacies CVS and Walgreens to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine in nursing homes. The administration has proposed less frequent surveys of the highest-ranked nursing facilities to concentrate on “low performers.”

Biden has said he would make federal nursing home surveys more frequent and increase the current penalties to force compliance with federal standards. He also proposed requiring that each facility have a mandatory infection disease specialist, requiring the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to audit nursing home cost reports, and increasing personal protection equipment (PPE) supplies by invoking the Defense Production Act. The proposal also calls for restoring a previous ban implemented by President Obama on forced arbitration agreements for residents—a ban that President Trump reversed.

It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has had an especially large impact on nursing homes, where tens of thousands of residents and staff members have gotten sick and even died. Because nursing homes combine communal living and vulnerable individuals, and because they often have high rates of abuse and neglect, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit those living in a nursing home particularly hard. In some homes, hundreds of residents have caught COVID-19, with dozens dying. The pandemic is thus raising concerns for Maryland families who have placed family members in nursing homes; many are fearful that nursing home abuse and neglect could be fatal for their loved ones.

In some cases, the situation has gotten so bad that the FBI has been sent to raid nursing homes with a high number of COVID-19 cases. According to a recent news report, two Pennsylvania nursing homes were raided and searched just last month by investigators from the FBI, as well as the state attorney general’s office and other agencies. This followed concerning reports of deeply troubling conditions and practices, including a lack of trained nurses, filthy living conditions, and lax sanitation protocols. Data from the State Department of Health shows that 447 residents and staff members tested positive for the disease as of early September, and 73 people had died.

Tragically, this example is just one of many nursing homes across the country, failing to keep their residents safe during a deadly pandemic. But it is important to know that many of the issues leading to the spread of disease were present even before COVID-19 began spreading through the United States. Nursing home abuse and neglect is not new, but COVID-19 is showing just how widespread and deadly it can be. While there have been reports of unsanitary and even filthy living conditions at Maryland nursing homes before, the lack of sanitation is especially apparent when a contagious disease is spreading through the facility. The same is true for medical neglect: a long-standing issue at many facilities, but even more deadly during the pandemic. Even just carelessness on the part of the staff—not wearing a mask at all times, failing to wash their hands regularly—now has an incredibly large impact on the safety and well being of nursing home residents, many of whom require constant care and are unable to move out and care for themselves.

Nursing homes continue to be hit hard by the coronavirus. Across the U.S., over 40 percent of deaths in the country are linked to nursing homes. In Maryland nursing homes, the numbers are even higher. As of September 25, there have been 2,146 deaths across the state in nursing homes, group homes, and assisted living facilities, which accounts for 57% of the total deaths in the state. Maryland has seen 753 resident deaths and 7 staff deaths during the week of September 23.

According to a recent news report, one nursing home in Sykesville, Maryland is facing hundreds of dollars in fines after the state found it failed to isolate residents and notify staff during an outbreak. For example, the facility moved an exposed resident to a room with a negative resident, who both later tested positive. Some newly admitted residents also were not isolated, despite having sufficient rooms to do so. Maryland nursing home residents may be able to take action against the facility based on its failure to protect and properly care for residents.

Other states have explored solutions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities. As one news source reported, in New Mexico, the state worked with a healthcare operator to set up a nursing home that it dedicated to treating long-term care patients infected with the coronavirus. It was set up to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities in the state. Deaths in nursing homes in New Mexico make up 34% of the total deaths in the state.

When someone is searching for a Maryland nursing home to place a loved one, it’s likely that a facility’s status as for-profit or non-profit is not high on the list of priorities. Typically, the difficult decision of where to place a loved one who needs part- or full-time care is made based on location, price, and the services offered. Many families may not even think to look into the for- or non-profit status of the facility, instead prioritizing finding a place nearby where their loved one feels safe, or perhaps even knows people already there.

However, a recent study might make Maryland families rethink their priorities when searching for a nursing home. According to the study, senior residents in for-profit nursing homes are almost two times as likely to have health problems linked to poor care, compared to those living in non-profit  homes. Additionally, among residents studied at for-profit homes, there were more clinical signs of neglect, such as dehydration in clients with feeding tubes, broken catheters, bedsores, and improperly managed medications.

The leading researcher in charge of the study believes the results show that more oversight is needed in nursing homes, especially for-profit homes. However, the U.S. government is currently considering rolling back existing regulations meant to protect nursing home residents. The existing regulations were put into place to improve resident safety and well-being, to prevent nursing home neglect and abuse, and to improve reporting systems when neglect and abuse do happen. Tragically, the last part is very important—incidents of nursing home abuse and neglect often go unreported, as residents may either be too frail and ill to understand what is happening to them, or may fear retaliation if they report.

Nursing home negligence and abuse is a huge problem in Maryland and across the entire country. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit earlier this year, this blog reported on Maryland nursing homes’ negligence and the devastating effects it can have on residents and their families. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has made matters even worse in many nursing homes. A recent news report documented the harsh realities of COVID-19 within nursing homes and how a widespread lack of safety and sanitation protocols has become potentially deadly.

The report discusses one nursing home that received a citation in October of 2019 for failing to “provide and implement an infection prevention and control program.” The report that accompanied the citation found that staff members would engage in shocking behavior—one, for example, used a soiled towel to wipe a resident’s buttocks and then failed to wash their hands before going back to work. In the aftermath of this report, however, residents’ relatives said that the home did not take steps to change their behavior. One woman discusses the care her 93-year-old mother received, saying that she could not rely on the nursing home staff to take care of her or keep her healthy, and witnessed her being injured or roughhoused. Once, she had to clean fecal matter from her mother’s fingernails or dispose of adult diapers left on her bed. Tragically, the woman’s mother passed away in early April from a COVID-19 outbreak that the nursing home failed to control.

The concerns discussed in this home are not unique. In fact, nursing homes across the nation and in Maryland have very similar problems, with substandard living conditions for residents and a lack of proper sanitation. This caused problems before the COVID-19 pandemic, but has worsened since the pandemic spread across the United States in March of this year, causing outbreaks and deaths among nursing home staff and residents.

Recently, an industry news source recorded a fascinating podcast including an interview with a former assistant U.S. attorney who discussed legal issues that could arise for nursing homes from the COVID-19 pandemic. The podcast discusses how nursing home abuse and neglect cases may be affected by the virus. The information is very important for residents of Maryland nursing homes or those who have loved ones in these facilities.

The podcast discussed the various immunity laws passed for health care providers as a result of the pandemic in states across the country. These laws are not brand new—some states have long had immunity provisions that kick in automatically whenever a state of emergency is declared. Most of the current immunity provisions in effect now during the COVID-19 pandemic change the level of culpability that facilities can be held to in nursing home abuse or neglect cases that have to do with the disease.

Typically, someone bringing a nursing home abuse or neglect case has to prove that the actions of the facility amounted to negligence and contributed to resulting injuries, illness, or death. However, the immunity provisions typically increase the standards. According to the podcast speaker, the provisions basically say that nursing home facilities and the individuals working within them will no longer be responsible for negligent behavior. Instead, they can only be held liable at a higher standard, such as gross negligence or reckless disregard. This makes it much harder for victims of nursing home abuse or neglect to hold the facilities responsible, because it’s a higher bar of proof to reach. In other words, it might not be enough to show that the nursing home or employees acted negligently or carelessly and caused the spread of COVID-19 or even a COVID-related death. Instead, potential plaintiffs might have to prove that the nursing home was extremely careless, perhaps even maliciously or willingly, which is much harder to prove as a matter of law.

Recent figures now show that nursing homes make up many of the country’s COVID-19 deaths. In fact, according to a recent report by the New York Times, 43 percent of coronavirus-related deaths in the United States are linked to nursing homes and long-term care facilities. In Maryland specifically, long-term care facilities make up a staggering 60 percent of the state’s COVID-19 deaths.

Throughout the country, COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes and long-term care facilities account for at least 54,000 deaths. So far, many large groups of coronavirus cases have occurred in nursing homes, prisons, and food processing facilities, where social distancing is difficult or impossible. And although there were more cases in prisons and food processing plants, the deadliest clusters have been mostly in nursing homes, where residents are particularly vulnerable because of their age and underlying health problems.

The report found that where large outbreaks occurred in nursing homes, 17 percent of people infected with COVID-19 died, compared to around a five percent death rate among COVID-19 patients in general. In three states, over 75 percent of all COVID-19 deaths are linked to nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

For several years, we have written about Maryland nursing home abuse and neglect cases, which can have tragic consequences for residents and their families. Unfortunately, instead of the situation improving, some reports suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic could be making the situation worse, as thousands of residents are passing away in nursing homes, potentially due to negligent care. Any facility that has a large number of residents living in one community can be dangerous during the pandemic, and more than 37,000 residents in nursing homes have died since early March, raising concerns of inadequate protections or staffing.

Recently, ABC News reported in-depth on the issue. The article detailed the story of seven daughters who decided to move their father, a former corrections officer, into a Maryland nursing home this past February. Unfortunately, within three months of being in the home, their father died after testing positive for COVID-19. But before he died, he was in a severe condition, leading his daughters to believe that inadequate care at the nursing home may have contributed to or even caused his death. One daughter reported that, when her father originally went to the hospital (weeks before he died), the hospital staff told her that her father had lost 30 pounds and that he was so dehydrated “his blood was like mud.”

Typically, when someone is injured due to negligence or abuse in a Maryland nursing home, they have the ability to bring a personal injury lawsuit against the facility to recover for medical expenses, pain and suffering, and more. However, Maryland is one of the several states across the country that has laws in place to protect healthcare providers during a declared public health emergency. Now, during the COVID-19 pandemic and its severe effect within nursing homes, Congress is considering instituting similar protections for nursing homes. This could be a major barrier for plaintiffs who want to bring claims against nursing homes, making these suits an uphill battle. Supporters of the measures claim they protect nursing homes from frivolous claims against them, but critics point to how important it is that families affected by a nursing home’s negligence have an avenue of relief.

Healthcare providers across the United States continue to grapple with challenges related to providing care to patients suffering from COVID-19, otherwise known as the novel coronavirus. Almost 60% of COVID-19 victims in Maryland are long-term care and nursing home residents. In response to the disproportionately high rate of infection in nursing homes, many states, including Maryland, have asked lawmakers to provide nursing facilities with immunity from lawsuits related to their care during the pandemic. Despite the inherent difficulties many residents and their families face pursuing lawsuits against negligent nursing homes, these facilities continue to push for additional protections against liability.

Even though the spread of disease and illness can become challenging to control, these entities have a responsibility to provide their residents and visitors with a safe environment and appropriate treatment. This includes ensuring that their staff is trained in proper hygiene and safety practices, providing staff and residents with protective gear, quickly diagnosing and identifying patients suffering from infectious diseases, and notifying visitors of any changes in visitation protocol. Despite these steps, outbreaks can still occur, and these facilities must have a plan in place to combat these instances. Infection control protocols include implementing stricter sanitation requirements, changing safety equipment requirements, and isolating high-risk or infected residents. The failure to respond to an outbreak effectively can result in deadly consequences for residents and staff.

Many families are beginning to file lawsuits against these facilities for their response to the COVID-19 outbreak. In response, many Maryland nursing home groups are asking the state to provide immunity based on the governor’s emergency declaration. A few states, including Maryland, protect providers during state and national emergencies. Nursing homes are anticipating that many lawsuits will include claims that the facilities did not have enough personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect their staff and residents. However, many residents and families are claiming that a lack of PPE is only one problem of many, and that clinicians and staff failed to diagnose and treat their loved ones quickly.

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