Articles Posted in Nursing Home News

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.

Despite the concerning rate of COVID-19 (coronavirus) deaths, a recent news report indicates that officials are refusing to provide the public with a comprehensive and accurate list of Maryland nursing homes and long-term facilities where outbreaks have been confirmed. Many nursing home administrators, staff, and residents at these facilities remain in the dark about the presence of the infection at their facilities. Maryland Department of Health officials advised investigators and reporters that public disclosure was up to the local health department. However, many local health departments declined to release the names of affected facilities, reasoning that they need authorization from the state to share the information. This lack of transparency has added to the public’s fear and confusion about how to protect themselves and their loved ones. Maryland nursing homes that fail to engage in appropriate disease prevention practices and do not provide the public with crucial health and safety information may be liable for the spread of disease at their facilities.

Maryland nursing homes and long-term care facilities must limit the spread of disease and infection by taking precautions and acting quickly when an outbreak emerges. It is especially important because nursing home populations are at the highest risk of being affected by COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides these facilities with guidance on how to keep COVID-19 from entering their facilities, identifying infections, preventing the spread of COVID-19, accessing personal protective equipment, and managing severe illnesses.

The guidelines make it clear that one of the most critical components of disease control is providing residents and staff with information about the disease. Staff and residents should receive education and training about signs, symptoms, and potential outbreaks. Further, residents and families should have information about what the facility is doing to protect their loved ones. Some common ways to limit the spread of disease are restricting visitors, reinforcing adherence to infection prevention, and implementing non-punitive, flexible sick policies for staff. These Maryland facilities must act swiftly to implement all of these recommendations before cases are identified at their locations. Maryland nursing homes that fail to engage in these safe practices and refuse to provide this crucial information may leave their residents and staff vulnerable to exposure and severe illness.

There are different causes of action that an individual may be able to bring in a COVID-19 Maryland nursing home case, depending on the circumstances. Causes of action in a Maryland nursing home case can include negligence, wrongful death, battery, false imprisonment and infliction of emotional distress.

Negligence is among the most common causes of action. Generally, in a Maryland negligence claim, a plaintiff must show that a defendant owed the plaintiff a duty, the defendant breached that duty, the plaintiff suffered an injury or loss, and the damages proximately resulted from the defendant’s breach of the duty. In a Maryland nursing home case, a nursing home may be liable for negligence if the home was negligent in caring for the resident, in failing to keep the resident safe, or in another way. For example, failing to segregate a positive COVID-19 resident, to inform other residents, to test symptomatic residents, or to require staff to wear protective gowns and masks might be potential cases of negligence.

Wrongful death claims are another common cause of action in nursing home cases. In the tragic event of the death of a nursing home resident, a nursing home may be liable for the wrongful death of the resident. Wrongful death claims brought under Maryland’s Wrongful Death Act allow claims against a defendant “whose wrongful act causes the death of another.” In COVID-19 cases, these claims would likely be brought for similar reasons as a negligence claim.

As the coronavirus continues to spread across the United States, officials are tracking cases in nursing homes, where residents are at a heightened risk. According to a recent report, state officials have now reported at least 60 Maryland nursing homes and senior living facilities have confirmed coronavirus cases in the state. There have been six deaths at one facility in Mount Airy. Health officials have reported that 147 nursing homes across 27 states have at least one resident with coronavirus, according to one news report.

The Centers for Disease Control and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services looked into the high fatality rate at the Life Care Center nursing home in Kirkland, Washington, where at least 35 residents or staff have died from the virus. CMS found that the center failed to quickly identify and manage sick residents, notify the state’s health department about the rate of respiratory infection among its residents, and failed to have an adequate backup plan when the facility’s primary clinician became sick.

Seniors are at a greater risk because they are more susceptible to complications from the virus, a CMS administrator said in a statement. People over 65 years old are at a high risk of serious illness and death from the virus, according to the CDC. CMS said it would enhance its inspection process for nursing homes in light of its findings.

Nursing homes fill an important role in today’s society; as the population ages and life expectancy increases, more and more Americans are placing their loved ones in nursing homes to care for them when they are no longer able to care for themselves. Unfortunately, not all nursing homes are safe for residents, and sometimes residents may suffer abuse or neglect from the individuals tasked with caring for them. While the federal government has regulations governing nursing homes and standards of care, the current administration has recently attempted to loosen these regulations, causing concern for Maryland nursing home residents.

The proposal to relax regulations governing nursing homes was introduced in July of 2019 but has been drawing particular attention recently due to the coronavirus. According to an article in the New York Times, the federal government’s proposed changes would loosen regulations established during the Obama administration meant to curb deadly infections and diseases in nursing homes. Specifically, the rule would eliminate the requirement that nursing homes employ at least one specialist in preventing infections. Infection-prevention specialists are currently supposed to be at all nursing homes in the country, ensuring that employees are washing their hands and following other safety procedures. Their role is considered especially important when considering that, every year, about 380,000 nursing home residents are killed by infections.

While this proposed change is of concern even without the current pandemic, the coronavirus illustrates the vulnerability of nursing homes to infectious diseases. For example, one nursing home in Washington state has lost 13 residents to coronavirus, and dozens of other residents and employees have gotten ill. National reports indicate that the elderly are particularly susceptible to the coronavirus, with a significantly higher death rate than the general public. Additionally, those living in nursing homes are less able to practice social distancing, increasing their risk. Thus, advocates are urging the federal government to withdraw the proposed changes, which could lead to increased medical neglect, less infection control, and more illnesses and deaths in nursing home populations.

Individuals across the world are beginning to experience the devastating impact of Covid-19, commonly known as the novel coronavirus. The new strain of the virus has been identified in every state and is linked to the death of over 150 U.S. residents. Out of these deaths, at least 40 are connected to a single nursing center in Washington, and residents of other long-term care facilities. The widespread exposure throughout these nursing facilities shines a light on the fundamental problems nursing homes have containing the spread of disease. Maryland nursing homes should take the necessary precautions to limit the spread of these types of fast-spreading diseases and infections.

The coronavirus shares some similarities to the flu in that it quickly spreads through person-to-person contact or through respiratory droplets. Further, although the flu can be severe and have high rates of mortality, experts have years of studying the flu and generally know what to expect each season. In contrast, relatively little is known about the new virus and the diseases it causes. However, it is clear that, like the flu, the disease is highly contagious and spreads quickly.

Maryland nursing homes should follow the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations for preventing the spread of disease. These diseases thrive and spread quickly in confined spaces, such as, assisted-living facilities and long-term care facilities. Healthcare workers must follow strict procedures to prevent serious illnesses, injuries, and deaths to their residents. Nursing home workers should practice proper hand hygiene, wear protective equipment, restrict visitors from contacting infected patients, and prevent infected healthcare staff from contacting patients. Nursing homes that do not engage in these practices may be responsible for the spread and consequences of a virus.

With the population aging and life expectancies increasing, nursing homes are becoming a part of more and more Maryland residents’ lives. Although many Maryland nursing homes offer quality care and safe facilities, nursing home abuse and neglect are still persistent problems across the state. It can be difficult to know the risk of this type of abuse and neglect when choosing a nursing home. While there may be warning signs to look for – such as past instances of abuse, or unclean or unsecure facilities – there are some cases where a seemingly fine nursing home may make decisions that then lead to abuse and neglect. Specifically, facilities that fall into financial trouble may cut staffing in the home, leading to new problems in a previously fine home.

For example, one nursing home was recently cited by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for making staffing decisions that led to several dangerous incidents. According to a news report covering the story, the home, which once operated seemingly without issue, suffered financially in recent years, leading them to cut staffing to save money. These personnel cuts led to an increase in quality-of-care violations cited by state regulators, with six violations in 2017 that jumpted to 22 in 2018 and 36 in 2019. The incidents included not having portable liquid oxygen tanks for patients who needed them, hiring an unlicensed caregiver, allowing a kitchen worker to supervise the dementia ward, and multiple instances of sexual abuse and medication errors. Additionally, inspectors found that the home, because it was short-staffed, was unable to adequately respond to residents’ requests for assistance. Some residents reported soiling themselves as they waited 40 minutes for someone to come to help them.

Incidents like these, which were particularly bad at this specific nursing home, unfortunately happen in facilities all across the country. Oftentimes, the patients are extremely vulnerable and frail, and may be unable to defend themselves or even tell someone else what is happening. Because of this, it is particularly difficult to catch nursing home abuse and neglect. When it is identified and caught, however, the state law allows the victims and/or their loved ones to file a suit against the home and hold them accountable for their actions. These suits may be difficult but can result in significant monetary compensation for those who have been harmed as a result of negligent staffing or other negligent actions performed by the nursing homes.

Each year, more states enact laws that allow for cameras in nursing homes and assisted living homes, which provide much-needed protection for residents. The laws allow residents and their families to place cameras in the residents’ rooms. In 2003, Maryland enacted a law requiring the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to develop guidelines for electronic monitoring. Under those guidelines, the state currently allows electronic monitoring in Maryland nursing homes with resident consent—but only if the nursing home allows it.

Meanwhile, other states continue to enact electronic monitoring laws, many that provide much greater protections to residents. According to a local news source, Minnesota recently passed an electronic monitoring law to protected elderly adults. The law, entitled the Elder Care and Vulnerable Adult Protection Act of 2019, took effect on January 1, 2020. A state ombudsman said that electronic monitoring is a right included in the state’s Home Care Bill of Rights.

The law was advocated for by families whose loved ones were abused or mistreated. Under that state’s law, there is a consent form required in order to obtain the monitoring device. Providers such as nursing homes must tell residents about the law and have the forms available to use. Consent is required from all people living in the same room. Before the law was enacted, according to the ombudsman, residents and their families were installing cameras, but there was nothing to stop others from removing the cameras. Under the new law, residents there can install cameras without letting the providers know.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), an agency that oversees Medicare and Medicaid and works to identify and eliminate nursing home fraud and abuse, recently released a memorandum detailing their 2020 priorities. These updated priorities are important for Maryland families to understand, as they affect the rights of nursing home residents as well as a resident’s ability to recover in case of nursing home neglect or abuse.

One of the major updates included in the 2020 memorandum concerns arbitration agreements. Arbitration agreements, if signed, require an injured nursing home resident to settle disputes with the home through a confidential arbitration process, rather than in court. This process operates privately, and while it is much faster than traditional litigation, plaintiffs lose any right to appeal and evidence shows plaintiffs are more likely to lose in arbitration. CMS’s recent memorandum states that the agency will allow nursing homes to use binding arbitration agreements with their residents, but that such agreements cannot be required as a condition of receiving care. For instance, if a resident refuses to sign the agreement, nursing homes cannot refuse to care for them solely on that basis. Additionally, CMS indicated in the memorandum that nursing homes must also explain to residents or their representatives that they can still receive care without signing.

CMS also stated that it plans to make changes to how instances of abuse and neglect are reported and investigated. For instance, new guidelines released later this year may include changes in the time frame required for investigations, the collection of certain evidence and investigative report, and general new policies and procedures to be implemented in nursing homes to catch instances of abuse.

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