Are Nursing Home Violations Being Ignored Amid the Pandemic?
Nursing homes have long been under the microscope for issues with understaffing, negligence, and other violations – even before the U.S. saw its first case of COVID-19. However, it is concerning that in the months since the pandemic hit, nursing home inspections seem to have been relaxed, rather than stepped up.
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Are Long-Term Care Violations Being Ignored?
According to a Washington Post news report, over 40,000 residents have died in long-term care and assisted living facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this disturbing fact, many of these facilities somehow managed to receive a clean bill of health from government inspectors.
One of the worst examples seen during the COVID-19 crisis involved the Life Care Center of Kirkland, a nursing home in Seattle’s suburbs. What federal inspectors discovered there was that Kirkland failed to provide an acceptable standard of care to ill patients. They also failed to notify authorities about the alarming increase in the number of respiratory infections.
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Response
Following the significant care violations at Kirkland, Seema Varma, the administrator of CMS, promised to implement a series of stronger nursing home inspections from both government inspectors and state partners. These tougher inspections were supposed to ensure that the 15,400 Medicare-certified nursing home facilities, including 146 across the states with confirmed COVID-19 cases, complied with CMS regulations for preventing further spread of the virus. Yet, according to the Post’s investigation, during just the first six months of the pandemic, CMS-deployed inspectors cleared infection-control violations for approximately 8 of every 10 nursing homes.
Nursing Homes Violations Found
Many nursing homes inspected were cleared of any violations despite the continued increase in both new cases and coronavirus-related deaths. Even more astounding are federal statistics that show that among the nursing homes given a clean bill of health in the earlier part of 2020, there were 290,000 COVID-19 cases and 43,000 deaths – numbers that include both residents and staff. In all, the death toll makes up about two-thirds of all the nursing home deaths from March through August 2020.
Even if some outbreaks may not have been preventable, repeated violations went unchecked and, in many cases, with only minimal fines. Even though the CMS is permitted by federal law to assess fines at about $22,000 per day for each day that a serious violation continues, many received no penalties at all.
These are just a few samples of observed violations at nursing homes:
- Sterling Place in Baton Rouge – Assessed $3,250 for failing to ensure their staff wore face masks. This facility had more than 80 cases and 15 deaths due to the coronavirus.
- Heritage Hall in Leesburg, Virginia – Assessed a $5,000 fine for neglecting to separate residents within the facility’s common area. Heritage Hall had more than 100 coronavirus cases and approximately 18 deaths.
- Broomall Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Pennsylvania – The long-term care facility failed to wear personal protective equipment (PPE), yet, despite having the highest number of nursing home deaths in the country, it was only fined $9,750.
Former Iowa assistant attorney general Dean Lerner says of the penalties, “Unless the fines and penalties have teeth and significance, [nursing homes] just as soon pay them and move on.”
In March, CMS decided to suspend – although temporarily – the collections of any fines or penalties assessed.
Some states have stepped in to launch their own level of oversight, reviewing facilities for infection-control and even opening up some criminal investigations. Other states have also made the move to impose penalties on behalf of CMS, such as mandatory staff training.
As the pandemic continues, there have now been approximately 70,000 nursing home residents and caregivers who have died from COVID-19. This number accounts for about 30 percent of all coronavirus-related deaths in the U.S.
Our Firm is Prepared to Protect the Elderly
If a family member or someone you care about suffered an injury or serious illness due to acts of gross negligence in his or her nursing home, we may be able to help.
Our dedicated team of qualified attorneys has a long history of representing injured nursing home residents throughout Wisconsin, recovering millions in compensation on their behalf. To find out if you may have a case at no cost or obligation to you, call our firm today. Representatives are available to schedule your free initial consultation 24/7.
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