Washington Post: “Thousands of Nursing Homes” Unprepared for COVID-19

A new report by the Washington Post suggests that “thousands of nursing homes” across the United States were ill prepared for the novel coronavirus pandemic. Federal guidance as well as advice from researchers and medical experts encouraged a policy of treating patients in place, the article notes, believing that hospitals “are not friendly environments for the frail and elderly.” But, the Post suggests, nursing homes “neglected” the fact that treating patients in place “requires having effective means of treatment, staff who know how to deploy that treatment and procedures to stop the spread of infection.” The result was that even though nursing homes “did not swamp hospitals” with coronavirus patients, they also did not prevent “the deaths of more than 30,000 of their residents, or, in many cases, even provide decent palliative care.”

The Post discusses one nursing home in upstate New York, Absolut Care Care of Aurora Park in East Aurora. Public records indicated that 153 residents at the nursing home were infected, with 61 deaths by May 31, 2020. This figure “includes deaths on site and among those taken to hospitals,” the Post says, and is disputed by the facility’s owners, though they “did not provide their own tally.” A nurse who quit working at the facility in early May told the Post that “Once it was there it just spread like wildfire… It was very hectic, chaotic.”

Early in the pandemic, Absolut Care of Aurora “was more or less winging it,” the Post describes, with administrators distributing disposable ponchos from a Niagara Falls boat cruise company until it could procure adequate personal protective equipment. (A spokesperson for the facility told the Post that “Our policies and procedures changed daily as the new DOH directives were given.”)  The facility had filed for bankruptcy in September 2019, the Post notes, stating further that staffing issues “made it hard to attend to residents’ needs,” and that residents’ family members “complained about shortages of adult diapers, toilet paper, towels, and decent food.” A Buffalo News investigation several years ago described the home as “one of Western New York’s worst nursing homes.” It has since come under new management, the Post says, though “its approach is essentially the same as any for-profit nursing home,” a model that the Post says proved inadequate to dealing with the novel coronavirus.

At a publicly owned nursing home 15 miles west of Absolut, Terrace View Long-Term Care Facility, four residents came down with COVID-19 and were transferred to the publicly owned Erie County Medical Center, where one died. The facility has a total of 390 beds, the Post notes; Absolut has 310.  Absolut also “provides less care by registered nurses than the national average,” while “Terrace View provides significantly more—more than twice as much per patient” as Absolut. The Post suggests this level of care proved crucial in the facilities’ different outcomes.

According to the Post, Terrace View “casts itself as part of the health-care system” as opposed to separate from it, and has infection procedures designed by experts at its affiliated hospital. At Absolut, management said the virus arrived via a patient who had returned from a hospital stay and contracted it there; the nurse who quit asserted that staff spread it around the nursing home. When the disease started spreading, according to the Post, residents were first locked down in their rooms, then COVID-positive patients were moved to a floor cleared for them.

However, staffers and residents told the Post, the employees who moved the patients did not take “sufficient care… to protect other residents from infection as they passed by.” The nurse who quit told the Post, “It was just cross-contamination everywhere throughout the building.” This nurse was “directed to take charge” of a COVID-19 unit, where he supervised two nurses and three aides providing care for a total of 56 people. “I couldn’t be one RN for 56 people,” he told the Post. “There should be two or three of me.”

Meanwhile at Terrace View, the Post continues, the facility enlisted infection prevent specialists to monitor staff and residents beginning on March 2. It trained staff on infection control procedures, and began screening staff and visitors on March 11, 2020. The nursing home benefits from its affiliation with a hospital, the Post states, which Absolut does not. The Post asks if nursing homes could have prevented more COVID-19-related deaths by taking residents to emergency rooms instead of treating them at home. It notes that “the strain on ambulance services presented an obstacle” in some regions, and understaffing prevented the close monitoring of patients who may be suffering from a disease that moves quickly. It also notes that many nursing homes have “do-not-hospitalize orders,” and that some “apparently transported patients only as they drew close to death.” All things considered, The Post concludes, the pandemic revealed “the inadequacies of a nursing home system that relies overwhelmingly on low-level aides.”

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.

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