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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.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on many growing concerns surrounding the care and treatment many residents experience at Maryland nursing homes. At the same time, many nursing homes continue to lobby for additional protections from suits, litigation against these facilities increases. The public perception of nursing homes tends to be poor, mainly stemming from highly publicized cases of abuse and the surge of coronavirus infection amongst many residents and staff.

Many Maryland nursing home cases involve allegations of neglect, physical abuse, restraints, ulcers, and falls. However, regardless of the cause of the incident, these cases are harrowing and can result in serious injuries and fatalities. While nursing homes and assisted living facilities often divert blame onto a “bad seed” employee, the fact remains that these agencies maintain the duty to ensure the health and safety of their residents and patients. Further, nursing homes may be held liable for their actions in concealing their staff’s negligence or wrongful acts.

For instance, a state report recently found that a nursing home hid allegations of abuse and neglect for its residents. According to the report, an administrator admitted to an investigator that they were told not to report abuse allegations to the inspections department. In addition, the report also revealed that a dietary manager and an aide worked for 30 days straight. Another night cook abruptly left the facility after working for 28 days without assistance. The cook’s departure resulted in a maintenance worker taking over the kitchen; however that worker did not know how to run the dishwasher. The disruptions in meal services resulted in nurses holding insulin for patients waiting for meals.

Nursing home abuse and neglect have become endemic in our society today. Cost-cutting measures, staffing issues, and a profit-motive-driven industry all contribute to tragic instances of elder abuse and neglect in American nursing homes. A news report has recently been published that discusses one family’s struggles with the death of their loved one at a nursing home. According to the man’s niece, his condition quickly deteriorated after moving into the facility, and he was dead within two weeks. According to the man’s family, elder abuse and neglect are to blame, and the facility needs to be held accountable for their negligence.

The facts discussed in the local news report note that the 74-year-old man was found unresponsive in his room at the nursing home and first responders were eventually called. The man’s niece reported that she was told by the first responders that her uncle appeared to be suffering from neglect at the hands of the nursing home operators. The niece told reporters that her uncle was dirty, his catheter had not been changed, he was emaciated and had bed sores on his back. Additionally, the niece was told that the man had been unresponsive for several hours before 911 was called. Based on these observations and reports, his niece alleges that her uncle died as a result of elder abuse and neglect, and is demanding an investigation.

Administrative investigations can be an effective way of addressing claims of elder abuse and neglect. State, municipal, and federal agencies have the power to revoke or suspend a nursing home’s license to operate, and the administrative process often leads to an improvement of conditions over time. Administrative proceedings and investigations are not as effective at addressing abuse or neglect that has already occurred. Victims of elder abuse and neglect, and their families may need to seek redress through the courts by pursuing a medical malpractice or negligence claim against the nursing home and medical providers responsible for caring for the residents.

The last two years have been extremely difficult for nearly everyone in the medical and caregiving fields. The nursing home industry has been hit especially hard. Nursing homes nationwide have had to deal with the effects of a global pandemic that targets older individuals, while workers from the top to the bottom of the medical field have been experiencing increasing levels of burnout. As a result of the increasing demand for medical workers and assistants, along with the dwindling supply, nursing homes throughout the country have been experiencing severe staffing shortages. The AARP (formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons) has started a lobbying effort in Virginia in an attempt to get the state government on board with minimum staffing and sanitation standards for nursing homes in the post-pandemic era.

According to a press release detailing the AARP’s efforts to lobby the Virginia Legislature, long-standing and well-known issues surrounding nursing home care have gotten to a point where they must be addressed. The pandemic has brought long existent staffing issues in nursing homes to the forefront of public attention. Nursing home staff have been chronically undertrained and underpaid for decades, though the increases in stress and difficulty from the job brought on by the pandemic have exacerbated staffing shortages. While the free market can help solve staffing and other issues in many industries, the nursing home industry is unique because the federal and state governments pay for the majority of nursing home care in the U.S. through the Medicare and Medicaid social programs.

The AARP is encouraging the state and federal governments to step in with legislation that requires nursing homes to meet minimum staffing and training standards for their residents. Specifically, the group is urging the legislature to set a minimum staff ratio that must be met for a nursing home to operate, as well as increased training in infection control and sanitation. According to polling mentioned in the press release, the vast majority of Virginia voters approve of the requested changes, and the pressure is now on lawmakers to pass legislation to meet voter demands and improve the conditions of nursing homes within the state.

All over the country, it seems every business has a “help wanted” sign posted. From restaurants to movie theaters to grocery stores, the COVID-19 global pandemic has left businesses of all types and sizes short-staffed.

Unfortunately, nursing home facilities have been no exception to this issue. Many nursing home workers and certified nursing assistants have reported feeling burnt out and exhausted, resulting in a mass exodus of departures from long-term care facilities around the country. In light of staffing shortages, however, who will take care of our elderly and most vulnerable?

According to a recent news report, an ambitious new initiative is training National Guard service members to become certified nursing assistants in their latest deployment at a large nursing home facility. The facility was hobbled by a major exodus of employees because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in the nursing home shutting down entire wings of the facility. As a result, neighboring hospitals have been able to send new patients to long-term care centers like this nursing home, which is already stretched thin because of its lack of staff.

This holiday season, many friends and family members are planning to gather to celebrate. For our loved ones staying in nursing homes who may be unable to join, however, paying them a visit could both lift their spirits and allow you to check on their overall well-being. After all, when we send our family members to nursing homes, we entrust the care of our most vulnerable loved ones to them and their staff—and we should ensure that they are safe, well taken care of, and looked after.

According to a recent news report, a former nursing home staff member was indicted after allegedly sexually assaulting a resident. The former staff member was working as a housekeeper at the nursing home facility and allegedly raped an 81-year-old resident with dementia. As described in the indictment, the staff member, through forcible compulsion, assaulted the elderly and disabled victim in her room early in the morning. He was charged with rape in the first and second degree, a criminal sexual act in the first and second degree, and endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person in the first degree in New York.

Although sexual abuse in nursing homes is rare compared to other types of abuse that can take place, it may be because the rates of sexual abuse are underreported.

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.

Nursing homes are a necessity of life for many families. Whether an older person doesn’t have any family members who can care for them, their family are too busy, don’t possess the requisite skills, or don’t have the room; hundreds of thousands of people are admitted to nursing homes each year. While most nursing homes hire caring, diligent staff members to care for residents, that is unfortunately not always the case.

When a family sets out to select a nursing home, there is only so much they can do in terms of due diligence. So much of what goes on in a nursing home is behind closed doors. Perhaps it’s not surprising that many nursing homes take affirmative efforts to hide instances of abuse and neglect. However, what’s more concerning is a recent report from the New York Times indicating that the federal government knew about instances of physical and sexual abuse and failed to inform the public.

Do nursing homes have a legal obligation to report abuse and neglect?

Yes, generally, nursing homes are under a legal duty to report abuse and neglect. For example, if one resident physically assaults another requiring the victim to be hospitalized, the nursing home must file a report with the state. One would assume that once a nursing home let federal authorities know of an incident, the government would then make that information public. Indeed, this is exactly the type of information families need when deciding on a nursing home.

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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