Global reports indicate that the elderly are at the greatest risk of death or serious complications from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), and drastic measures to protect elderly communities are being enacted. Reports from China suggest a COVID-19 mortality rate of 15% for this population, and perhaps drastically higher. The COVID-19 infiltration at the Life Care Center of Seattle, where 19 residents have died from the virus, highlights the disastrous implications of a nursing home contamination, due to the close proximity of a community of vulnerable elderly people, many with exacerbating health conditions.
Nursing homes have already become more vigilant about restricting staff and visitors who fail the criteria (see Health & Human Services Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ guidelines), but COVID-19 presents a challenge because it can be spread by infected individuals for several days before they manifest any symptoms. Additionally, the virus can be spread by contact, so healthy visitors can be transporting the virus on their hands, clothing, or possessions they bring into facilities. Health care organizations and government leaders are beginning to identify bans or heavy restrictions on visitation as the necessary means to combat the influx of COVID-19 into nursing home facilities.
Bans on outside visitors have already been initiated in Florida, San Francisco, and all VA (Veterans Affairs) nursing homes. A ban on visitors seems imminent in New York as well. In Maryland, Governor Hogan made an announcement on March 11, regarding the state’s plans to address the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak, which was officially designated a pandemic by the World Health Organization earlier in the day.
Governor Hogan included changes for Maryland nursing homes regarding visitation, saying: “Yesterday I convened the leaders of the state’s long-term care community, which includes nursing homes, assisted-living facilities, and retirement communities. We issued the following directives, effective immediately: Nursing homes will have restricted access to essential visits only. We will be prohibiting other nonessential visits, prohibiting all staff from any internal travel, and we are recommending that these facilities actively screen all individuals entering all of these facilities and restrict entry to anyone showing any respiratory symptoms or anyone with any possible exposure to COVID-19. I am also announcing today that all state veterans facilities will be required to follow these same guidelines.”
For facilities where visitation rights are still available, it is recommended that family members abstain from visitation unless absolutely necessary. Families are encouraged to use video communication with residents until the safety of in-person visitation can be established.
The attorneys at Brown & Barron specialize in representing nursing home residents who have been neglected or abused. We know, first-hand, how these facilities function, and just how vulnerable residents are. We strongly urge nursing homes to follow the state’s restrictions—and also to do even more to prevent the spread of this disease within their facilities.
Also, if you believe you or a family member has suffered as a result of nursing home negligence, call our team today at (410) 698-1717 to learn more about your rights and options.