In any well run business, it’s important to keep a surplus of critical resources on hand, to be prepared for the unexpected. The nursing home industry has never followed this basic business principle, choosing instead to keep manpower and supplies to the absolute minimum, to squeeze ever higher profits. In the best of times, this meant unnecessary injuries and deaths to the elderly residents, but during a once-in-a-century pandemic, the consequences are so much worse.
It has been well documented that COVID has hit the elderly in nursing homes the hardest, with an estimated 90,000 deaths among residents in the United States. Due to a deliberate lack of transparency by nursing homes, as well as state and federal agencies, the actual death count is just an estimate. The reality is that thousands of additional residents have died, not from the virus, but from two major side effects of the pandemic: isolation and neglect.
Nursing homes allowed the first and worst infections of the pandemic. This was to be expected. Infractions related to bad infection controls are the most common violations found by inspectors every year. When the pandemic hit, it was too late to reverse a culture of bad habits and poor training among staff regarding infection controls. Even if they tried to improve infection control practices during the chaos of the pandemic, most facilities did not have the trained personnel, personal protective equipment, or even the basic supplies to prevent the spread of infection.
The Fatal Side Effects of Isolation
Despite knowing that staff members were spreading the virus from resident to resident, the industry refused to spend the money on COVID testing for staff, and the idea of investing in paid sick leave for employees who had symptoms was completely out of the question. The industry did put a ban on visitors, which likely saved lives, but it came with a dire consequence. The residents of nursing homes have gone since March with the crippling loneliness and isolation that comes from not seeing a loved one. Many are withering away simply from the despair of crippling isolation, and residents are dying with the vague yet oddly telling cause of “failure to thrive” on their death certificates.
The Unknown Victims of Pandemic Chaos
What is even harder to estimate is the number of deaths resulting from nursing home abuse and neglect due to a shortage of manpower that was exacerbated by the pandemic. The corporate nursing home practice is to maintain the bare minimum of poorly trained and poorly paid staff to maximize profits while accepting the consequence of a few paltry fines and whatever preventable deaths of residents that occur. Before the pandemic, the staff and services at nursing homes across the country were stretched razor thin. When staff members began dying and quitting due to COVID, a bad problem got a lot worse. Bear in mind that visits from family and other members of the residents’ support system are critical to catching problems at nursing homes before they get too serious, and those visits had been indefinitely prohibited.
The only possible outcome, based on historical studies of low staff on nursing home safety, is that even more residents suffered during the pandemic. According to the Associated Press, its own expert who researched the effect “estimates that for every two COVID-19 victims in long-term care, there is another who died prematurely of other causes. Those ‘excess deaths’ beyond the normal rate of fatalities in nursing homes could total more than 40,000 since March.”
A Manmade Diaster
The nursing home industry has consistently lobbied for less regulation and weaker fines, and it recently was able to accomplish both goals with the Trump administration. The goal is simply to reduce overhead by lowering the government’s minimum standards for safety and care, cutting back on inspections, and decreasing the amount of penalties when they are caught flouting even these low standards. While these deregulatory goals mean higher profits for nursing homes, they mean misery, injury, and death for the residents. When you remove the threat of significant financial penalty, you are depending on the nursing home corporations to choose acting in good conscience instead of its financial interests, and to no surprise whatsoever, that rarely happens.
Advocating for Nursing Home Residents
If you or a loved one has been negatively impacted by a nursing home that has thrown caution to the wind amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a way to hold them accountable for any harm they have caused. Contact our acclaimed attorneys at Brown & Barron, LLC online today.