How Will Nursing Homes Handle Resident Care as the Delta Variant Spreads?
Posted by PKSD Law Firm on August 18, 2021 in Nursing Homes and Elder Rights
The Delta Variant has seen a rapidly growing rate of new COVID-19 cases in nursing homes – the most since February 2020.
After 16 months of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, what have long-term care facilities and caregivers learned? How will they deal with the highly infectious Delta variant? Are enough staff getting vaccinated, and are facilities doing enough to help curb the current rate of infection?
PKSD looks back at how nursing homes initially handled the onset of the novel coronavirus, what went wrong, and what could impact care going forward.
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Early Handling of COVID-19 in Nursing Homes
In the early months of the pandemic, nursing homes struggled to efficiently limit the spread of COVID-19. Many long-term care facilities took some steps to implement Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, such as:
- Screening visitors for fever and other respiratory symptoms
- Mandating the use of masks for visitors
- Restricting or canceling visitation – except in cases involving compassionate care
- Emphasizing the importance of handwashing amongst caregivers
- Canceling or limiting community or dining activities
- Ensuring residents maintained regular communication with family members
Unfortunately for thousands of residents – and staff, most of these attempts to contain infection were too little, too late.
What Went Wrong?
Nursing homes, in general, were off to a slow start in implementing infection prevention and control measures. Yet the AARP reported that a survey done of U.S. nursing homes between 2013 and 2017 showed this deficiency was not new. A 2020 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office revealed four out of five nursing homes surveyed had been previously cited for deficient infection control measures.
This 2020 report led the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to put tougher infection control measures into effect. However, these measures were not well-enforced. The systemic failure of the nursing home industry, along with a new and infectious virus, led to thousands of new COVID-19 cases and deaths among both residents and staff.
Even months into the pandemic, nursing homes still struggled to contain or reduce infection rates due to:
- Family members, staff and other visitors unknowingly infecting other caregivers and residents
- Insufficient supplies of protective personal equipment (PPE)
- Inadequate access to COVID-19 testing – both for staff and residents
- Relaxed requirements for sick or asymptomatic staff to stay home
- Not properly or regularly disinfecting common areas and resident rooms
- Super spreader caregivers on poverty wages working at multiple nursing homes
- Understaffed, poorly regulated facilities
Dealing With the Delta Variant
Many nursing homes are reconsidering ways to help contain infection and reduce the number of new cases from the highly contagious Delta variant.
Considering New Restrictions
Some nursing homes are putting new restrictions on visitation in place. For example, a nursing home in Tampa requires family members to get tested twice per week and only allows one-hour visits indoors. Many other nursing homes around the country, while mostly still allowing indoor visits, are restricting visitors while a resident is unvaccinated or if infection rates in the county are currently high. When outdoors, the requirements are less strict.
Are Vaccines Helping to Reduce Infection Rates?
Prior to the onset of the Delta variant, both new cases and deaths had plummeted to an all-time low not seen since the beginning of the pandemic. LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan says, ” Vaccines are a game changer – the most effective tool we’ve got to protect from the virus.”
To date, government data shows that about 78 percent of nursing home residents in the U.S. are now fully vaccinated. In Wisconsin, that average is a little higher, where about 82 percent of residents have received the vaccine. The number of nursing home staff vaccinated nationally, however, is much less, including in Wisconsin where only 57.5 percent have been fully vaccinated. This is astonishing when you consider that of the 7,500 deaths from COVID-19 in the state, 43 percent were nursing home residents and staff.
Will Long-Term Care Facilities Mandate Vaccinations for Staff?
Some of the large nursing home chains are now requiring staff to get vaccinated, including Good Samaritan, which employs about 16,000 staff in 22 states, and Genesis HealthCare. Additional long-term care facilities and organizations are expected to follow suit. Other nursing homes have opted for a lesser restriction, giving workers a choice of either getting the vaccine or being tested weekly. Many facilities are concerned that requiring vaccines could lead to an even greater shortage of staff.
While continuing to monitor the situation, the CDC has already provided some new public updates for avoiding infection – even for fully vaccinated individuals – which includes wearing a mask if:
- Indoors in public settings that have a high volume of traffic or likelihood of transmission
- In any indoor public setting outside of the home and are immunocompromised or not vaccinated
- Have been in close contact with an individual who has, or likely has, a confirmed case of COVID-19
Contact Our Firm for Answers to Your Legal Questions
We understand the many concerns family members may have for a loved one in a nursing home during the pandemic. If you suspect your loved one is being neglected or is not being protected from exposure to COVID-19, we are prepared to help.
At PKSD, our Wisconsin nursing home abuse lawyers are committed to protecting elderly residents in long-term care. We have extensive experience handling nursing home cases of neglect or abuse. While nursing home cases are challenging, we are prepared to fight for full compensation for the victims we represent.
Contact our firm to schedule a completely free initial consultation. Find out if you have a case at no risk to you. If we represent you, there is nothing to pay us until your case concludes – and only if we recover compensation for you.
PKSD Law Group. Legal help you can trust. 877-877-2228