When a catastrophe strikes, there is a tendency to accept that we are powerless against the random cruelty of nature. That is not always accurate. Take Hurricane Katrina for example. Hurricanes are an unstoppable force of nature, but the levees in New Orleans didn’t fail because of a powerful storm; they failed because of decades of incompetence rooted in greed. The same is true for the thousands of nursing home residents dying preventable deaths from COVID-19.
It goes without saying that nursing homes are particularly susceptible to viruses. They have a dense population of elderly people with weak immune systems and other underlying conditions. One might expect that the nursing home industry is obsessed with sanitation. The reality is that nursing homes regularly fail to meet even the minimum health standards set forth by the government. The pandemic did not change that. During inspections in late March (well after the nation became aware of the dangerous spread of COVID-19), the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) found that 36% of nursing homes inspected failed to meet the hand-washing practices required to prevent the spread of viruses and 25% failed to meet the requirements for personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks.
COVID-19 is exposing problems that have existed for the nursing home industry for a long time. The key to preventing the transmission of any viruses or bacteria at nursing homes is to have adequate medical supplies, pristine facility maintenance, and a staff of highly trained health professionals. Instead, nursing home employees are among the lowest paid in health care, and short-staffing is the norm. To make ends meet, many report working when they are sick, and some work shifts at multiple nursing homes, compounding the potential for contamination. When you have underpaid and overworked health care professionals who are working in poorly maintained and supplied facilities, lax health care standards and the spread of infectious diseases are inevitable.
Nursing homes face fines for violations, as well as the threat of losing their licenses and key funding from Medicare. As long as they can maintain their licenses, the nursing homes are financially motivated to hover around or below the minimum standards set by the CMS.
That lack of attention to detail can be seen in two of the most recent COVID-19 disaster sites in Maryland: FutureCare Lochearn in Baltimore (220 cases and 10 deaths) and Pleasant View Nursing Home in Mt. Airy (124 cases, 29 deaths). Before the pandemic, at its inspection in June of 2019, Lochearn was written up for 15 health citations, almost double the national average of 8.2, according to nursing home statistics provided publicly by Medicare. Pleasant View was even worse, with a one-star “much below average” rating and 26 health citations at its last inspection.
“Loved ones in nursing homes are dying in disproportionate numbers,” said Brian Brown, a founding partner at Brown & Barron. “The nursing home industry has been well warned about the lethal potential of viruses such as this. COVID-19 does not absolve their responsibility to provide a safe environment for residents.”
Although the COVID-19 virus is highly contagious and deadly to seniors, the fatal spread of the virus in nursing homes is a man-made disaster. As with hurricanes, viruses are only getting more frequent and more deadly. When COVID-19 finally runs its course, and American lives slowly go back to normal, will the nursing home industry go back to normal as well?
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.