PKSD Newsletter: Systemic Failure Leads to Record COVID-19 Deaths in Nursing Homes

Posted on behalf of Jeff Pitman on March 15, 2021 in Nursing Homes and Elder Rights
Updated on April 24, 2024

Older woman in wheelchairWhen the pandemic hit last year, many were concerned about the welfare of frail and elderly residents being cared for in U.S. nursing homes. However, few had any idea just how quickly and deadly the virus would devastate the already crumbling long-term care system.

This month’s PKSD Newsletter discusses the impact systemic failures had on COVID-19 outcomes in nursing homes and how industry leaders are pushing to improve the future of long-term care.

The Impact of COVID-19 in Nursing Homes

Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities were not ready for the pandemic. Despite emergent guidelines for infection control issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), many facilities were ill prepared when COVID-19 hit.

The failures were many and stemmed from a history of care violations. When combined with a lack of preparation, inadequate oversight and substandard care, the outcome was horrific, resulting in:

  • The deaths of more than 170,000 nursing home residents and caregivers, as reported by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).
  • A high percentage – 35 percent – of U.S. COVID-19 deaths occurring in long-term care facilities – yet the percentage of Americans living in nursing homes is less than one percent.
  • COVID-19 cases being reported in 94 percent of America’s nursing homes.
  • A high probability that those who contracted COVID-19 in a nursing home were seven times more likely to die from the virus.
  • An additional unprecedented number of excess deaths.

What the Pandemic Revealed About Long-Term Care and Government Failures

There was plenty of evidence of the potential dangers prior to COVID-19’s arrival on U.S. shores – even in China where 22 percent of the deaths from the virus were patients over the age of 80. The World Health Organization issued dire warnings for countries to be quick to implement a plan to properly protect the elderly. However, not enough was done.

The result was nursing homes across the country with hastily-implemented substandard infection control, followed by inadequate oversight, both at state and federal levels. Additionally, long-term care facilities everywhere were scrambling to obtain supplies of PPE while taking dismally poor steps to contain the infection. In all, it was too little, too late. Families watched helplessly as their loved ones living in these long-term care facilities died – often alone – without the comfort of their families or friends around them.

Examples of systemic failure across the country:

  • Approximately one-fourth of all Pennsylvania long-term care facilities consistently underreported the number of new cases or deaths in direct violation of a state order.
  • In facilities where the majority of residents were of an ethnic minority, the number of COVID-19 deaths were triple the number of other facilities that had mostly white residents.

What Can We Expect In the Future and as The Crisis Begins to Recede

As vaccines continue to be rolled out across the country, the number of new COVID-19 cases are dropping. While the pandemic is far from over, industry leaders are already examining the failures and considering the future of nursing homes.

A commission comprised of doctors and other healthcare professionals across the country created and published a report this past September – the Coronavirus Commission for Safety and Quality in Nursing Homes.

The report details multiple systemic problems – including the paltry Medicaid payments, substandard pay for caregivers and other staff, overall lack of transparency and more.

In all, the commission provided more than 100 action items for CMS and 27 recommendations for improving existing nursing home care models, such as:

  • Requiring more clinicians to be on-site
  • Improving existing minimums for nurse and nurse’s aide staffing
  • Enhancing and improving the enforcement of regulatory reforms
  • Increasing investments in Medicaid facilities over larger, more profitable nursing home facilities

Our Firm is Ready to Help You Pursue Justice

If your family member suffered injuries or a medical illness caused by a facility or caregiver’s negligence, we are prepared to help. We have spent many years successfully advocating for injured elderly victims in nursing homes. Our dedicated nursing home abuse lawyers in Wisconsin are prepared to fight for a maximum recovery on behalf of your loved one. There are no upfront fees to pay if we represent you. We do not get paid unless you do.

Call the law offices of PKSD 24/7 to learn more about how we may be able to help you.

Millions Recovered. Free Case Review: 414-333-3333

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