Back in March, there was some public anger when several states mandated that nursing homes admit patients regardless of whether they were infected with COVID-19. The sentiment was that callous and desperate governors were forcing nursing homes to accept infectious residents into facilities already decimated by the deadly pandemic. Ironically, the truth is that profit-driven nursing homes are actually eager to get COVID-19 patients because they are more lucrative customers, and they’re dumping poor and elderly residents on the streets to make room for them.
“Nursing homes are taking the most vulnerable people — elderly people who are highly susceptible to COVID, people with dementia — and abandoning them at homeless shelters, without even contacting their families,” said Leah Barron, a founding partner at Brown & Barron, a law firm that specializes in the rights of nursing home residents.
When we think of a nursing home, we often forget that these facilities also provide rehabilitation for people of all ages and socioeconomic groups as they recover from surgeries or serious illnesses. Medicaid covers the cost for most of the long-term residents, but the short-term rehabilitation stays are paid for by Medicare -- and these short-term Medicare customers are more lucrative for nursing homes. According to the New York Times, COVID-19 patients can bring in at least $600 more a day.
To make room for the more profitable COVID-19 patients, nursing homes across the country have been using various tactics to evict their long-term residents. The New York Times researched the extent of the evictions by contacting ombudsmen in 46 states (ombudsmen are officials who advocate for the rights and well being of nursing home residents as a public service). Here’s what they found:
“The New York Times contacted more than 80 state-funded nursing-home ombudsmen in 46 states for a tally of involuntary discharges during the pandemic at facilities they monitor. Twenty six ombudsmen, from 18 states, provided figures to The Times: a total of more than 6,400 discharges, many to homeless shelters.”
Nursing homes do have a process for legally evicting residents, called involuntary discharges, under specific circumstances, such as the resident’s inability to pay or if they are a danger to others in the facility. In those cases, the nursing homes are legally required to notify the resident and the local ombudsman’s office. The resident has 30 days notice, and the nursing home is required to find a safe place for them to stay.
The nursing homes have been able to work outside these laws by operating under the dark of the COVID quarantine and by tricking elderly residents into voluntarily leaving.
To curb the spread of the virus, the nursing home industry deployed tight restrictions that prevented any onsite visits from family members, regulatory inspectors, and ombudsmen. This enabled unscrupulous nursing homes to move out long-term residents to open up beds for COVID-19 patients under the cover of darkness.
“Of course, there had to be restrictions on visitors to contain the virus, but applying those same restrictions to the ombudsmen and inspectors was like leaving the fox in charge of the henhouse,” said Brian Brown, a founding partner with Brown & Barron. “It will be some time before we know the full extent of the negligence and abuse that went on at nursing homes when there was no oversight.”
Nursing homes can argue, after the fact, that the residents left voluntarily. The reality is that it would not be difficult for an unscrupulous nursing home to pressure or convince an elderly resident that they needed to leave. That type of villainy might be hard to believe, but the nursing home industry has a history of illegal involuntary discharges, driven by profit motive, that predates the pandemic. Sadly, this is just another symptom of a pathological nursing home industry that often considers the abuse, neglect, and death of the elderly as a part of its business model.
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.