The COVID-19 pandemic has led to thousands of deaths in nursing homes across the country and Oklahoma is no exception. Reports are that more than 90,000 residents of nursing homes in the country have died during the pandemic. However, the pandemic isn’t the only thing to blame as nursing homes have long seen issues with abuse and neglect of residents by staff members.
As the COVID-19 pandemic raged on in nursing homes, many residents who never tested positive for the respiratory disease were left to fend for themselves. They didn’t receive the care they deserved because staffing was low or staffers had to focus on patients suffering from COVID symptoms.
An analyst of nursing home data provided the Associated Press with some shocking figures: “For every two COVID-19 victims in long-term care, there is another who died prematurely of other causes. Those ‘excess deaths’ beyond the normal rate of fatalities in nursing homes could total more than 40,000 since March.”
The additional deaths are almost 15 percent more than what you would expect at nursing homes.
“The healthcare system operates kind of on the edge, just on the margin, so that if there’s a crisis, we can’t cope,” said Stephen Kaye (who analyzed the data for the Associated Press), a professor at the Institute on Health and Aging at the University of California, San Francisco. “There are not enough people to look after the nursing home residents.”
Kaye also discovered that the rate of death for reasons other than COVID increased in nursing homes where the Coronavirus spread. In a nursing home that had 3 out of every 10 patients infected with COVID, the death rate for reasons other than COVID would double compared to a nursing home that did not experience a spread of the Coronavirus.
What led to excess nursing home deaths?
According the Associated Press, the biggest challenge has been understaffing: about 25% of all nursing homes across the country are understaffed. The burden to help residents bathe, eat, get dressed, and perform other activities fell on nursing home aides who were already overwhelmed with helping COVID-19 patients and working for very little pay.
Understaffing also increases the stress of the job, which can lead to anger and frustration – and those feelings can be taken out on residents.
All of this falls under a failure to provide the duty of care that nursing homes promise to their residents, and which is guaranteed as part of the nursing home “Bill of Rights.” If a short-staffed nursing home failed to conduct a background check and a new hire harmed your loved one, that is an act of negligence. If they failed to monitor your loved one’s health, or to properly supervise their employees to ensure that residents were cared for, that is an act of negligence.
Inspectors were not permitted into facilities
Nursing home facilities went on lockdown when the pandemic hit, and those lockdowns didn’t just bar family members from visiting. They also prevented inspectors from entering the nursing homes to do their jobs even as reports of abuse and neglect continued to permeate the news.
Mairead Painter is the long-term care ombudsman for Connecticut. Painter said that dentists and podiatrists were not allowed to access many facilities, which led to dentures going unfixed and toenails from going unclipped. This might not seem like a big deal but it led to problems with malnourishment and uncomfortable situations for diabetes patients.
“I don’t think anyone really understood how much time friends and family, volunteers and other people spent in the nursing home and supplemented that hands-on care,” Painter said.
Nursing home groups are fighting back
Nursing home groups have been fighting back the bad press and accusations that staff members have not been caring for residents, no matter if they have COVID or not. The American Health Care Association dismissed the accusation from the public that staff members across the country haven’t been able to properly care for COVID and non-COVID patients. The group also dismissed the claim that non-COVID deaths are in the tens of thousands.
“There have been some really sad and disturbing stories that have come out,” Dr. David Gifford, the group’s chief medical officer, said, “but we’ve not seen that widespread.”
A group that represents not-for-profit nursing homes, LeadingAge, issued a statement via president Katie Smith: “These incidents, stemming from the challenges being faced by too many committed and caring nursing home providers during this pandemic, are horrific and heartbreaking. I hope that these tragedies will wake up politicians and the public.”
Can nursing homes be held liable for the deaths of their patients?
While Oklahoma’s nursing homes have been granted some level of immunity regarding the coronavirus itself, you can still hold one accountable for the injuries or death of your loved one related to other reasons. If your loved one was physically abused, subjected to unnecessary chemical restraints, or neglected in any way, you can make a claim for damages which includes:
- Pain and suffering for your loved one
- Medical costs associated with care
- Loss of quality of life
The last year has been unprecedented in what it has thrown at us, and health care professionals have been under considerable strain. But at the end of the day, if your loved one was neglected or abuse, that is grounds for a lawsuit.
Did you suffer the loss of a loved one at the hands of a nursing home employee? Were they subjected to abuse and neglect because of staffing shortages? The Tulsa nursing home abuse lawyers at Biby Law Firm will fight for the rights of your loved one. Call our office at 918-574-8458 or complete a contact form online to schedule a consultation today.
Jacob Biby has spent his legal career helping folks just like you get the resources they need after an injury. He completed his undergraduate degree at Oklahoma State University and earned his Juris Doctorate from the University of Tulsa in 2008. Jacob is licensed to practice in all Oklahoma state and federal courts, and has limited his career to representing individuals and families who were injured by the negligence of other people or corporations. Learn more about Jacob Biby.