There is a popular myth circulating that COVID-19 was so contagious and deadly, there was not much that nursing homes could have done to prepare for it or stop it. The reality is that even common infections regularly sweep through U.S. nursing homes, and the preventable death of the elderly has simply become a routine part of business for the profit-driven nursing home industry.
COVID-19 was such an exceptionally deadly virus it made headlines. It is estimated that 1 out of every 8 nursing home residents has died from the disease, comprising a third of the total COVID-19 deaths in the United States. One might expect that the worst nursing homes as rated by Medicare would have the worst COVID-19 outbreaks, but surprisingly, the facilities with favorable ratings did not do much better in combating the spread of the virus. After COVID-19, one should conclude that for nursing homes in America, a lack of infection controls is a given, and even the “best” nursing homes are not expected by regulators to be prepared for even run-of-the-mill infections.
Here are the four most common infections at nursing homes, according to Aging Health
Pneumonia and lower-respiratory-tract infections remain the leading cause of death in nursing home residents. Outbreaks of seasonal flu can devastate a nursing home without making headlines. As with COVID-19, the flu enters the facility through staff or visitors, and then spreads among the elderly and immunocompromised residents. One of the grim lessons of the COVID-19 epidemic is that most nursing homes are not willing to invest in basic protections, such as paid sick leave for staff members who are ill, adequate personal protective equipment, proper training and infection protocols, and the facility space to accommodate and isolate infected patients. As a result of penny-pinching, thousands of elderly nursing home residents die of pneumonia from seasonal flu. Residents who need feeding tubes have an even higher risk of pneumonia. It has also been found that nursing homes that do not oversee proper oral and dental care are associated with higher rates of pneumonia.
Urinary Tract Infections
Although not as fatal as pneumonia, the urinary tract infection (UTI) is the most common infection at nursing homes. It’s a particular risk for those with urinary catheters. In many cases, nursing homes are not following medical guidelines for the frequency of catheter use, duration of catheterization, and proper hand washing when administering them.
Older people produce less gastric acid, and as a result they are more susceptible to viral and bacterial gastroenteritis, an infection of the stomach or small intestine that can lead to diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and even death. Studies show that nursing home residents are four times more likely to die from gastroenteritis than the elderly who do not live in nursing homes. These infections are highly contagious and travel person-to-person, requiring nursing homes to isolate infected residents and staff to contain the infection. As we have seen with COVID-19, most nursing homes do not have protocols or the space for isolating infected individuals. Norovirus is the most common source of diarrheal infections, and the CDC reported that 35% of all norovirus outbreaks occur at nursing homes.
Skin & soft tissue infections
Older people are more vulnerable to skin and soft tissue infections, due to the process of aging. Many of their conditions and medications lead to severe itching, which can lead to open wounds that allow pathogens to enter. Nursing home residents are also susceptible to bedsores, a preventable condition that can become very severe. Scabies are also very common at nursing homes.
The COVID-19 epidemic has cast a public spotlight on the lack of infection controls at nursing homes. It would be a huge mistake to assume that the only risk is the next big infamous virus. Common infections have been routinely killing our elderly family members at nursing homes before, during, and likely after COVID-19, and it is time for the nursing homes and regulators to make fundamental changes.
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.