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Amid Covid-19, Nursing Home Deaths Due To Neglect Skyrocket in the Shadows

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on society, and that impact has hit the elderly the hardest. Though the virus is spreading like wildfire through nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, reporting from The Associated Press demonstrates that deaths from COVID are only a shadow of the dangers posed to elderly loved ones in this troubled time.

Chronic understaffing at nursing homes had been a problem long before the COVID-19 pandemic, one serious enough that it was a common cause of elder abuse in said facilities. COVID-19 exacerbated this understaffing issue to previously unseen levels, as nurses already in stressful, low pay positions prior to the pandemic have been overworked from colleagues testing positive or calling in sick. Federal data indicates that in states where virus cases are surging, almost a quarter of nursing homes are reporting staff shortages.

This has had deep consequences on the level of care afforded to our elderly population. When long-term care facilities were initially sealed off in March, inspectors and advocates were locked out as well, even as disturbing reports leaked about major medical declines in nursing home residents. As families have gradually been permitted to visit their loved ones once again, they’ve often been horrified at what they see.

Grandmothers kept in soiled diapers so long their skin peeled off, grandfathers with tunneling black bedsores, and reunions that became funerals as loved ones perished from dehydration or starvation – this is the toll of the neglect that has become far too common in the wake of the pandemic. As more than 90,000 Americans in long-term care facilities have died to COVID-19, elder advocates report that deaths from neglect have also spiked and could total more than 40,000.

An expert who analyzed data from the nation’s nursing homes on behalf of The Associated Press estimates for every two COVID-19 deaths in long term care facilities, there is a premature death resulting from physical neglect or “failure to thrive.” The latter is the term listed on some death certificates for instances where doctors believe the deaths resulted from the despair of prolonged isolation.

Considering the scale of the dangers posed to nursing home residents in these times, it is vital to safely be there for your loved ones if they live in such a facility. To better understand what indicators to be on the alert for in order to keep them safe, please refer to the post, “COVID-19: What to Look for When Visiting Long-Term Care Facilities.”

COVID-19: What to Look for When Visiting Long-Term Care Facilities

COVID-19 has necessitated lifestyles changes from all of us, but many don’t fully realize the deep impact it has left on the elderly. Economic insecurity has broadened, depression-inducing levels of isolation have become typical, and some long-term care facilities have adopted harmful practices to handle the additional burdens COVID-19 has introduced to their staff.

With a vaccine still months away from achieving widespread inoculation, the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care and AARP Foundation have released a guide on things to keep in mind as you visit loved ones in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

One of the first things Consumer Voice recommends doing when reuniting with a loved one living at a long-term care facility is to note both their mental and physical states. Have they gained or lost weight? Is their skin healthy, with no pressure sores or bruises? Is their energy level and alertness what it should be, or do they appear confused? Be on the alert for signs of harmful medication changes.

Observing the state of the facility is also crucial to ensuring your loved one is getting the care they need. Are facility areas such as the bedrooms, bathrooms, and common rooms clean? Are the residents and staff wearing masks? Does there seem to be a sufficient number of staff in the building – with the number of nurses and certified nursing assistants on shift posted as required? A ‘No’ to any of these questions suggest problems that could put your loved one at risk.

You don’t need to rely solely on your own observations, however. It’s worth asking questions directly to your loved one to ensure they’re satisfied and truly receiving the care they need.

If concerns or issues arise during your visit, it is of the utmost importance that you act on what you know. Talk to the nurse on duty about your concerns, request a care plan meeting, ask the director of nursing or the administrator what will be done to address issues, and possibly file a complaint with your state survey agency. There are a multitude of options available to you, but keep in mind that just because you’ve expressed your concerns doesn’t mean the facility will take action on them. To truly be certain your loved one is safe, it is vital to follow up and act as an advocate until you’re certain the matter is resolved.

COVID-19 has brought much uncertainty into the world, but knowledge and foresight can help keep those you care about safe until the pandemic is behind us.

Photo credit: dpa/picture alliance via Getty

Nursing home resident

California Nursing Homes Got Insider Access to Newsom’s Health Care Regulators. Here’s How

From the 7/2/20 Sacramento Bee:

On April 9, California nursing homes were already in a state of crisis. Employees were staying home, fearing for their safety without proper protection. Facilities reported deaths daily.

At 12:30 p.m. that day, the chief advocate for California’s nursing home industry dispatched an email to officials at the California Department of Public Health. The email listed seven urgent concerns facing nursing homes, including child care and housing for workers.

The most detailed priority on the list: “The continuing bleed of $$$ to respond to COVID.”

“We’ve been working … on getting rate increases but making that happen sooner than later will help,” the industry advocate wrote.

Increased protective equipment for staff members and testing were the final items on the list.

Those priorities came from Craig Cornett, the CEO of the California Association of Health Facilities, an industry group representing 80 percent of the nursing homes in the state.

Cornett’s email to the Department of Public Health, among a flurry he sent in the early weeks of the pandemic, highlights how one industry official gained open-door access to the department that regulates his clients, according to emails and documents obtained by The Sacramento Bee through a public records request.

Cornett asked for standards to be relaxed and regulations to be waived. He recommended that COVID-19 patients be housed by one of his for-profit clients — a move that would make them eligible for higher federal payments. He swapped ideas with state officials about moving patients to a hospital ship and solicited their expertise on antibody testing.

All of this came while Cornett and a host of industry officials were asking Gov. Gavin Newsom to grant nursing homes immunity from criminal prosecution and make it harder to sue when residents get sick or die. (Newsom has yet to endorse or reject the idea.)

Read the rest of the article at the Sacramento Bee website.

CDPH logo

CA Dept of Public Health to Require Inspectors to “Adopt” a Nursing Home & Serve as Consultants

Last week – while the staggering death toll for California nursing home residents from COVID-19 surpassed 2,000 – a top official at the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) testified at separate Assembly and Senate oversight hearings on its plan to reform nursing home oversight.

Inconceivably, the central feature of CDPH’s plan is to turn hundreds of its nursing home inspectors into free, part-time consultants to the very same nursing homes they are required to inspect and regulate. It’s calling this plan the “Adopt a SNF Model.”

CDPH presented its plan at a June 9 hearing by the Assembly Committees on Health and Aging & Long-Term Care and a June 10 hearing by the Senate Special Committee on Pandemic Emergency Response. The hearings examined what went wrong in California skilled nursing facilities and with the State’s response and what lessons have been learned.

Read the rest of the article on the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform website