By Elisha N. Hawk, Partner
By now we’ve seen the terrifying news emerging from the elder care industry: the very first U.S. COVID-19 outbreak ravaging a nursing home in Washington, 45 dead at a nursing home in Virginia, authorities finding corpses piling up in a 4-person morgue at a New Jersey nursing home, and more. The stories are gut-wrenching, but they come as little surprise for those of us whose job it is to understand the industry. National chains have built a corporate model of profiting off our most vulnerable elderly population. When the only goal is to maximize profit, the nursing home business minimizes its costs by slashing staff, resources, and services, down to the bare minimum standards set by federal regulations. The grim reality is that nursing homes fail to meet these minimum standards on a normal day, much less during a pandemic.
The real culprit here is not the virus. It is a corporate structure that long ago determined that providing good care is bad for business. To many, it may be shocking that nursing home staff and residents feel like they are being led to slaughter, as the most recent New York Times article suggests. The everyday reality is that the workers entrusted to care for our most vulnerable are among the lowest paid in the healthcare industry, and short staffing has become the norm for nursing homes. When the people at frontlines of a pandemic are underpaid and overworked in life-threatening conditions, what should we expect?
As plaintiffs’ attorneys at Brown & Barron, we witness how corporate greed leads to nursing home failure on a regular basis. Every day, calls pour into our offices detailing situations of abuse and neglect by nursing homes. We hear first-hand accounts by family members who, despite their best efforts to advocate on behalf of their loved ones, have seen them suffer and die from preventable injuries. Now, because of the efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19, these family members cannot even visit their loved ones. They cannot advocate within the nursing homes entrusted to provide their loved ones with appropriate care. We are getting little more than statistics on the number of COVID-19 cases and fatalities, and that is likely just the tip of the iceberg. The stress of COVID-19 cases on meager resources is likely wreaking havoc on the level of care across the board.
This is a tragedy unfolding before our eyes, and we cannot stop it. Despite the valiant efforts of emergency room heroes and those doctors and nurses risking their lives every day in hospitals across our country, this is likely to be the nursing home industry’s worst moment in history. It will be an infamous event that casts light on the corporate greed that created a structure that is destined to fail under the stress of a pandemic, despite a history of federal regulations requiring that nursing homes be prepared for just this scenario. This is about a corporate failure that is bearing witness to a mass exodus of underpaid and overworked employees. It is about a corporate failure that has placed our most vulnerable population at imminent risk of death.
So what can we do?
Despite not being able to physically be present for our loved ones, we can vigilantly communicate with them and raise our voices to speak on their behalf. We can make their voices heard. The National Consumer Voice for Long-Term Care has made available an advocacy tool for alerting the White House, Congress, State Legislatures, and CMS to our personal stories. Additionally, we can share our concerns through our social networks, through our aging resources, and through our resident and family councils. Do not stay silent just because you cannot physically be present. Be vocal. Keep talking until you are heard. Only by taking action can we prevent this from happening again.
Our attorneys at Brown & Barron, LLC focus on representing nursing home residents who have been neglected or abused. We know first-hand how these facilities function, and just how vulnerable residents are to injuries. If you believe you or a family member has suffered as a result of nursing home negligence, we invite you to contact our team as soon as possible to learn more about your rights and options. To contact our team, call (410) 213-3242 today for a consultation.
Elisha N. Hawk is a Partner at Brown & Barron. Elisha's practice focuses entirely on representing residents who have suffered from abuse or neglect at nursing homes. Elisha has extensive litigation experience and a track record of success in obtaining justice for victims of nursing home abuse and neglect. Prior to earning her law degree, Elisha completed a Master of Liberal Arts program at Johns Hopkins University. She also taught middle school English for eleven years in the Baltimore area. Elisha graduated from the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, with a certificate in Health Law. Following her law school education, she gained legal experience by litigating medical device and pharmaceutical cases.