The World Health Organization recently declared the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic, causing some countries to go on lockdown and announce travel restrictions. While many businesses, schools, and events have closed, Americans need to remember that COVID-19 poses perhaps the biggest threat to nursing homes, where 75% of facilities have been cited for infection control errors.Most nursing homes are ill-equipped to prevent the spread of the virus.The false notion that a nursing home would be a healthy environment for the elderly to stay safe from dangerous viruses like the new coronavirus, is clearly not the case. China and Italy are not the only danger zones. In fact, nursing homes are a perfect-storm environment for serious viruses and are likely ill-equipped to prevent the spread of the virus within their walls and beyond.
What makes nursing homes a dangerous environment?
In nursing homes, some things are controllable and others are not.
Nursing home residents are older and have weakened immune systems, so they are already a high-risk population. To help keep residents healthy, excellent hand hygiene needs to be a high priority, as well as making sure that everyone is getting enough rest. Sleep is an important factor because bodies need adequate rest to stay healthy and strong.
Several factors related to nursing home procedures and typical health conditions make residents a vulnerable population. These include frequent transferring of residents (along with viruses and bacteria) to and from hospitals and nursing homes, frequent interaction with healthcare workers, decreased functional abilities, advanced dementia, and fecal incontinence.
Nursing homes face the challenges of understaffing, fewer resources, insufficient training, and inadequate surveillance of infected people. This can spell disaster to the elderly who are very susceptible to infections.
Containing infectious diseases is not a new problem for nursing homes.75% of nursing homes have been cited failing to properly manage infectionsSeventy-five percent of U.S. nursing homes receive citations for failing to properly monitor and control infections in the last three years (citations have been as mild as a paperwork problem, and as serious as a nursing home not telling state officials about an outbreak as unmonitored workers spread the disease to patients), it’s no surprise many have been affected by this novel coronavirus.
Underscoring the link between infection control and the spread of COVID-19, on Wednesday the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced that its inspections would focus solely on issues related to controlling infection and other serious health and safety threats, such as allegations of abuse — beginning with nursing homes and hospitals. The agency made that shift effective immediately, allowing inspectors to focus on addressing the spread of COVID-19.
Fortunately, the vast majority of citations that were issued do not relate to situations that have caused significant harm. Inspectors catch most issues early enough that facilities can address them before anyone is hurt.
US Coronavirus Outbreak Starts in Washington State Nursing Home
In Washington state, where the first cases popped up, nursing homes have been on high alert. In the town of Kirkland, the coronavirus has devastated the Life Care Center nursing home, with 13 confirmed deaths of residents caused by the virus, 19 deaths in the state tied to Life Care, and at least 51 residents have been infected. United States authorities believe the nursing home is the site of the first outbreak of coronavirus cases in a long-term facility, received a five-star overall rating by federal regulators, but previously had been criticized for its procedures for controlling infectious disease.
A 2019 inspection report described a Life Care Center resident’s daughter saying her mother’s open-heel wound often touched the ground while nurses were working. Inspectors found other basic problems at Life Care, such as kitchen staff not properly washing their hands or changing gloves.
After the recent COVID-19 cases, the Life Care Center said it implemented infection control recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and from state and local health departments in order to limit the spread of the virus. The facility also said it is limiting visitors, monitoring residents and employees, and asking staff to stay home if they are sick.
Nursing Home Risk Factors
9,372 nursing homes in the United States had at least one infection control violation since 2017, such as staff failing to wash hands or change gloves from patient-to-patient. Violations were most common in nursing homes that were understaffed.40% of highly-rated nursing facilities have been cited for lapses in infection controlPeople are vulnerable to the coronavirus in even the best facilities, with 4 in 10 nursing homes with a five-star rating cited for lapses in infection control, one of them being Life Care Center. However, nursing homes that have a pattern of infection control and understaffing problems pose the highest risk.
In a pandemic like what we are seeing with the coronavirus outbreak, a major issue is ensuring there is enough good care available in skilled nursing facilities to take some of the load off acute care hospitals.
Infection Control Requires Time and Money
Good infectious disease control takes time and effort. It takes time to wash your hands, put on gloves, change gloves, to make sure that linens are changed appropriately, to limit close contact, take people’s temperatures, and monitor residents who already have respiratory illnesses.
In Washington state, at the Life Care Center, for example, many workers were exposed to the new virus and could not come to work. Many nursing homes are already understaffed, posing a real problem for this public health emergency.
Americans are seeing new cases every day, but there are ways to prevent the number of cases from increasing in our most vulnerable populations. It is strongly recommended to take family members’ and employees’ temperatures as they come into the buildings and to require every facility to have a worker who concentrates only on infection control. Health officials at the CDC provide additional recommended infection control procedures in response to the coronavirus. Unfortunately, all of that requires more staffing, which also means more money.
When to Contact a Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer
When you trusted a nursing home would take excellent care of your loved one, you thought it would offer a safer and better quality of life than you could provide. If you know or suspect that your loved one’s death in a nursing home was due to the negligence, you may be able to receive compensation for your loss. To learn more, please call our nursing home abuse lawyers at (630) 684-2332 for a free consultation regarding your case.