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Skyrocketing Nursing Home Deaths in the Shadow of COVID

Skyrocketing Nursing Home Deaths in the Shadow of COVID

On March 9th, prior to when most lockdowns began, 129 people affiliated with the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington were infected with coronavirus. 81 of those folks were residents. Ultimately, dozens would die.

Unofficial tallies show that 101 veterans perished at the Menlo Park Veteran’s Memorial Home in New Jersey of COVID-19. As of this writing, that is the highest number of deaths at any nursing home in the country although coronavirus cases are again breaking records.

Elsewhere in New Jersey, authorities found 17 dead seniors in an outbuilding converted to a refrigerated makeshift morgue. A total of 68 people at the Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation Center, including 2 staff members, are believed to have succumbed to COVID. Prior to the outbreak, the facility was already struggling as Medicare had already rated it as “much below average,” the lowest rating possible.

All of these stories are true. Unfortunately, they are not urban legends. But what about all the people dying in nursing homes from poor care. The COVID-19 horror stories certainly garner the media attention but there is a much deeper crisis happening at our nation’s nursing homes.

The Associated Press recently shared the story of Donald Wallace who until recently was living at West Hill Health and Rehab, a 163 bed for profit nursing home in Birmingham, Alabama. Like many nursing homes, West Hill wasn’t spared by the coronavirus pandemic. Unfortunately, in a nursing home setting, the virus often spreads like a wildfire through dry kindling.

The 75 year old Wallace was spared the virus. But he still died. According to the AP,

“Hale and happy before the pandemic, the 75-year-old retired Alabama truck driver became so malnourished and dehydrated that he dropped to 98 pounds and looked to his son like he'd been in a concentration camp. Septic shock suggested an untreated urinary infection, E. coli in his body from his own feces hinted at poor hygiene, and aspiration pneumonia indicated Wallace, who needed help with meals, had likely choked on his food.

"’He couldn't even hold his head up straight because he had gotten so weak,’ said his son, Kevin Amerson. ‘They stopped taking care of him. They abandoned him.’”

Many nursing homes were already struggling to provide even minimal care before the pandemic began. After COVID, things got worse.

As noted above, at Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation Center where bodies were found piled in a shed, regulators had already rated the place as much below normal and that rating was before the pandemic. We also looked at the ratings for West Hill Health and Rehab. Once again, “much below normal.”

In the last inspection before the pandemic (December 2019), inspectors found a patient lying on a bed with no sheets in what appeared to be feces. Another resident was found with looked to be feces on the bed rail.

Why did this happen? Probably because inspectors found the facility failed to meet standards for adequate staffing.

Unfortunately, staffing at most facilities only got worse once coronavirus appeared.

Nursing home staff are often underpaid. That means it is hard to attract quality workers. Since hospitals often pay much better, many nurses and medical staff choose not to work in a nursing home. Training, equipment and testing abilities are often much better in hospitals too.

According to an expert who analyzed data for the Associated Press, for every two nursing home residents that died of COVID-19, there is another resident who died a premature death from other causes.

COVID Immunity Laws Responsible for Hundreds of Nursing Home Deaths

The other main driver of the spike in nursing home deaths is the broad immunity given to nursing homes in most states. While we have no problem in giving a nursing home a pass if it made a good faith effort to obtain PPE and couldn’t secure adequate resources, most deaths are attributable to negligent care. Unfortunately, the immunities provided by many states allow nursing homes to now escape their own wrongdoing.

Under the special immunity legislation now in place in many states, nursing homes and their staff can’t be held liable for the death or injury of patients even if those injuries were caused by the nursing home’s own negligence. There is absolutely no incentive to take better care of residents.

One patient advocate calls these immunity laws and executive orders “a license for neglect.” Until recently, New York had an immunity order that even granted nursing home workers immunity from criminal prosecution. (After New York nursing homes needlessly allowed thousands of nursing home patients to die in the early stages of the pandemic, the state legislature recently trimmed but did not eliminate the immunities enjoyed by nursing homes in their state.)

Injuries and Non-COVID Nursing Home Deaths on the Rise

We have already seen a dramatic increase in bedsore and fall cases in nursing homes in 2020 and have no doubt that the problem is fueled by both poor staffing and broad immunities.

Nursing Homes and Bedsores

There is never an excuse for a nursing home resident having a bedsore (also called a pressure ulcer). The only possible explanation to the contrary is if a patient arrived at the facility with a preexisting wound.

The primary cause of bedsores is the failure of a bedridden or immobile resident to be frequently moved. And that requires proper staffing. Depending on the severity of the wound, bedsores can take months to heal and are very painful. Stage 3 and 4 bedsores can become fatal if sepsis or other infection sets in.

The CDC says 1 in 10 nursing home residents will suffer a bedsore. That is tens of thousands of folks who are needlessly suffering. Since the pandemic began, we are receiving about 50% more calls from family members whose loved ones are suffering pressure wounds. That is consistent with the findings by the Associated Press.

No matter what nursing home staff may tell you, bedsores are a serious medical condition and easily preventable. There is absolutely no reason that you or a loved one should ever have to suffer from a bedsore. When they happen, the patient or patient’s family may have a case for nursing home neglect and malpractice.

We say “may” have a case because since March 2020, about half the states have given nursing homes broad immunity for their own negligence. Even though bedsores are not related to the novel coronavirus, many of the immunity provisions are quite broad and cover all types of nursing home neglect, abuse, injuries and even deaths. That means as reports of bedsores are dramatically rising, we are often powerless to help. 

To learn more, visit our cornerstone content, How to Sue a Nursing Home for Bedsores. Because of the patchwork quilt of immunity orders, contact us directly so we can determine if we can help.

Other Injuries Have Increased Since the Coronavirus Pandemic Began

It’s not just bedsores that are on the rise at nursing homes. We have seen an increase in falls and dehydration. Residents and their families tell us that loved ones aren’t having their bedding or underwear changed and call bells aren’t answered. Our colleagues tell us they are also seeing an increase in medication errors.

While we had some sympathy for nursing homes at the beginning of the pandemic, we are now many months into the pandemic and nursing homes are still neglecting patients at an alarming rate.

The Mahany Law Team – Nursing Home Neglect Lawyers

Our team and national network of nursing home neglect lawyers are actively investigating preventable nursing home deaths as well as bedsores and fall injuries. Because immunity laws are constantly changing, simply contact us and we will be happy to let you if we can assist your loved one. There is never a fee for a consultation.

Our focus is always protecting your family. Our prayers are with those in nursing homes, their families and the brave women and men who go to work every day in our skilled nursing facilities. Many of them are overworked and lack the test kits and protective gear they require. (We place the blame squarely on the administrators who often put profit before patients and not the frontline workers who for the most part are underpaid, not properly trained, understaffed and overwhelmed.) 

Whether coronavirus or a non-COVID injury, we are ready to help. For more information, visit our nursing home coronavirus information and bedsore pages . Ready to see if you have a case? Contact us online, by email [hidden email] or by phone 833.201.1555

(Nursing home neglect cases accepted nationwide - we have lawyers throughout the United States. are without obligation or fee. Cases accepted on a contingency fee basis meaning there are no legal fees or costs unless we recover money on your behalf. Some states have special rules for medical malpractice or nursing home cases. We follow the laws in every jurisdiction where we accept a case.

Are you a nursing home employee who simply wants to report dangerous conditions? We would love to hear from you, all inquiries from nursing home workers are kept strictly confidential.

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