On Wednesday, March 10th the Biden Administration released an updated set of guidelines for those visiting nursing homes. This is the first set of revisions to the restrictions and nursing home guidance since September 2020, most of which revolve around indoor visitation. Specifically, regardless of whether they (visitors and/or residents) have received a vaccination or not, visitors are allowed to go inside and see residents.
Admitting a loved one into a nursing home, or being admitted yourself, can be an overwhelming process. Every individual deserves to be treated with respect and care when entering these facilities. When entering a nursing home, you may be asked to fill out a procedural form called a “Pre-Dispute Arbitration Agreement.” This agreement essentially takes away your right to hold a nursing home accountable in court, for any and all potential negligence or wrongdoing. “Pre-dispute” arbitration agreements require giving up this right before neglectful actions even take place. Therefore, you will never have the chance or opportunity to determine whether court is necessary or not should something happen to you.
As the Brain Injury Association of America embarks upon Fall Prevention Month, it is important to highlight the high incidence of head injuries sustained by the elderly in preventable falls in nursing homes. Nursing home facilities are required to provide residents with a safe and hazard-free environment including attention to fall prevention, because it is known to them that a high risk of falls exists for this population. Unfortunately, research shows between 16% and 27% of nursing home falls are caused by factors such as dim lighting, slippery floors, broken equipment, and unclear walkways. Incorrect bed heights and faulty bed rails account for almost 30% of all nursing home falls. These are items easily remedied by nursing homes that often go unmanaged.
Nursing homes have been a focal point in the fight against COVID-19. While the challenges of protecting vulnerable and elderly nursing home residents against an unknown and often silently transmitted disease are significant, the pandemic has made existing problems within the long-term care community even more readily apparent. Poor quality of care, insufficient staffing, and questionable administrative practices among small and large facilities have been noted.
As our country navigates its way through the coronavirus pandemic, it is clear that nursing home patients make up one of our most vulnerable populations. Consequently, it is important that nursing homes be vigilant in the care of their patients, and strictly adhere to proper treatment protocols and standards. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.
The New York Times has recently published an article about wrongful patient discharges and evictions from nursing homes, sometimes referred to as “patient dumping.” The article was published on June 21 and highlights the evictions of patients from nursing homes, whose medical bills and expenses are paid by Medicaid, to homeless shelters and unsafe locations. In some cases, no advance notice is given to the patients or their families. “We’re dealing with unsafe discharges, whether it be to a homeless shelter or to unlicensed facilities, on a daily basis, and COVID-19 has made this all more urgent,” Molly Davies, the Los Angeles ombudsman, whose office works with residents at about 400 nursing homes, told The Times.
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal is asking for the general public’s help while investigating Nursing Home facilities. There have been multiple reports of misconduct in the homes. “We’ve lost too many lives of long-term care facility residents to COVID-19. Roughly half of all of our COVID-19 deaths statewide have been of individuals who had been within the long-term care system,” Grewal recently stated in a Coronavirus press briefing. With these unsettling statistics in mind, the Attorney General office is specifically investigating any “illegal activity or other misconduct involving a New Jersey-based LTC during the COVID-19 pandemic”.
The rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a growing awareness of systemic disparities across the United States, from small business support to healthcare access. One especially troubling issue centers on care for a particularly vulnerable population: elderly Americans living in assisted care facilities.
An investigation has been launched by the State Attorney General’s Office into the handling of COVID-19 by nursing homes in New Jersey. The investigation will focus on both civil and criminal liability and penalties for these facilities. The Office will be investigating the lack of staffing and mishandling that may have led to infection and death of patients, as well as the lack of transparency and failure to communicate with patients’ families during this distressing time.
It is important to recognize the hard work of nurses in the fight against COVID-19, but in nursing homes, problems continue to be discovered.
Unfortunately, we saw a spike of more than 1,500 deaths of nursing home patients from early to mid- April according to recent reports. As is being recognized, the nursing home population is vulnerable to the pandemic due to their age, or already compromised health. However, it should not go unnoticed that the problems some nursing homes are now experiencing are due in part to long-standing inadequacies in those facilities prior to the spread of COVID-19.
We commend the nurses and medical personnel on the front lines fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. However, as long time advocates for nursing home patients, we are aware of some of the issues developing in already problematic nursing homes. Some of these issues are being revealed by the media.