A new report by the Associated Press illustrates the devastating toll of the Covid-19 pandemic on nursing home residents across the country. The tragedy is not limited to Covid-19 deaths themselves, but also to deaths from other causes that ballooned as staff dealt with Covid-19 patients. One expert cited in the report estimated that “for every two COVID-19 victims in long-term care, there is another who died prematurely of other causes.” Ultimately, they concluded, there may have been more than 40,000 more “excess deaths” in nursing homes since March, compared to the same period in previous years.
The expert, professor Stephen Kaye at the University of California, San Francisco, attributes the spike in excess deaths to staffing issues at nursing homes. By comparing death rates at nursing homes that experienced outbreaks to nursing homes that didn’t, he found that “the more the virus spread through a home, the greater the number of deaths recorded for other reasons,” which suggests that healthcare workers were “consumed” caring for Covid-19 patients—and/or contracted the illness themselves—and therefore unable to devote adequate care to residents without Covid-19. Kaye suggests this effect was compounded by longstanding staffing issues at nursing homes: “In 20 states where virus cases are now surging,” the report observes, “federal data shows nearly 1 in 4 nursing homes report staff shortages.”
As a result of these issues, as many as thousands of nursing home residents languished and died. The Associated Press describes several such tragedies. In one case, an 83-year-old woman was thriving at Long Island’s Gurwin Jewish Nursing Home before Covid-19 arrived, participating in activities like “tai-chi classes” and “visits from a pony.” When Covid-19 reached the facility, her daughter said, the woman “looked awful” in a FaceTime calls: “Her eyes closed as she moaned, [she] flailed her arms above her head and just kept repeating ‘no.'” A doctor told the woman’s daughter that “the doctors have [Covid-19], the nurses have it and your mother may have it.” Within three week’s of the virus’s arrival, the woman died—but not of Covid-19. “She instead died of dehydration, her daughter said, because the staff was so consumed with caring for COVID-19 patients that no one made sure she was drinking.”
Another person described visiting her father at a Minnesota nursing home in June—her first visit since the pandemic began—where she “was struck by a blast of heat and a wall thermometer that hit 85 degrees,” according to the AP. Her father’s sheets “were soaked in sweat, his hair was plastered to his head and was covered in bruises” from at least six falls. She also described his uncut fingernails that “curled over his fingertips” and crusted eyes he was unable to open. Her father, according to the AP, “screamed, thinking he had gone blind, and [the woman] grabbed an aide in a panic. She snipped off his diaper, revealing genitals that were deep red and skin sloughing off.” A few days later, he died of dementia.
A Minnesota long-term care watchdog described the scale of the issue to the Associated Press, describing “cozens of complaints” she received about “bedsores, dehydration and weight loss, and other examples of neglect at various facilities, such as a man who choked to death while he went unsupervised during mealtime.” Connecticut’s long-term care watchdog described other side effects of pandemic-related lockdowns: “with dentists shut out, ill-fitting dentures went unfixed, a factor in mounting accounts of malnutrition, and with podiatrists gone, toenails went untrimmed, posing the possibility of painful conditions in diabetes patients.” Without visitation from loved-ones, overworked nursing home staff lost a “critical” source of support in feeding and caring for residents. Some of those rules banning in-person visits are still in place in nursing homes across the country.
In another case, a woman described visiting her mother at a Tennessee hospital in October, for the first time in six months. Her 79-year-old mother “had dropped about 20 pounds, her eyes sunken and her legs looking more like forearms.” Doctors told the woman her mother was malnourished and losing muscle mass. “There were bedsores on her backside and a gash on her forehead from a fall at the home,” according to the Associated Press. “Her vocabulary had shrunk to nearly nothing and she’d taken to pulling the blankets over her head.” She was fortunate enough not to catch Covid-19, as had many other residents in her nursing home, but her care declined nonetheless, the woman said, “because she’s had absolutely no contact with anybody who cares about her.”
The attorneys at the Law Offices of Thomas L. Gallivan, PLLC work diligently to protect the rights of nursing home residents. Please contact us to discuss in the event you have a potential case involving neglect or abuse.