Nursing homes across the country have been on lock-down for months to prevent families, inspectors, and nonessential personnel from introducing COVID to their facilities, but one key vulnerability has been largely ignored: the staff. Staff members encounter exposure to the virus in their daily lives outside of work, and they represent the primary way that the virus can get into a nursing home. Unfortunately, nursing homes are not required to regularly test their staff for COVID, and so they do not, and the result is a new surge of COVID cases and deaths.
“Residents of nursing homes have gone months without seeing their families, and many have had to die alone without their loved ones present, all to prevent the virus from entering the facility. Yet, every day, nursing homes let staffers come and go without testing to determine if they’re infected. That defies common sense,” said Leah Barron, a founding partner at Brown & Barron, a Baltimore law firm specializing in the rights of nursing home residents.
In most wealthy countries, a coherent national strategy has brought the virus under control, steadily reducing cases and deaths. In the United States, where the strategy, if any, depends on the individual states’ governments, COVID-19 is spiking with record-setting cases and deaths in swaths of the country. As these populations experience surges in COVID-19, it is only a matter of time before it impacts nursing homes.
In Florida, for example, Republican governor Ron DeSantis disregarded his state’s medical experts and reopened the state in mid-May with relaxed restrictions on public gatherings and business openings. By July 12, the state set a single-day record with 15,000 new COVID cases, and if Florida were a country, it would’ve had the 4th highest one-day total in the world. As a result, Florida’s nursing homes have seen a 74 percent increase in coronavirus cases in the past month, despite measures to isolate residents.
The culprit, other than dismal leadership at the state level and in the White House, is that COVID can still travel through the front door of nursing homes in the lungs of its staff members. To date, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have guidelines — not requirements — regarding staff COVID-19 testing, and that applies only when staff members report likely symptoms. Currently, the CDC recommends a regular health screening for nursing home employees, including a temperature check and reporting of symptoms, but that allows countless employees who have early, mild, or asymptomatic cases of COVID to spread the disease to vulnerable elderly residents.
The reality is that it is unclear whether the United States has the leadership or collective will to defeat or even mitigate the COVID pandemic. Only by testing staff members for the virus on a regular basis, can we protect them and the residents they serve.
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.