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Coronavirus in Nursing Homes: Is a Facility Liable When a Patient Gets Sick?

Dangers of Outbreaks in Nursing HomesNursing home residents are perhaps the most vulnerable population when it comes to the recent outbreak of the coronavirus. Mortality rates are higher among this population and there have been large outbreaks of the illness that have turned fatal at some nursing homes.

As a result, nursing home operators are scrambling to figure out ways that they can protect their residents from coronavirus (Covid 19). At least, families should be strongly hoping that the nursing homes where their loved ones reside are trying to take preventative measures. Some skilled nursing facilities are taking steps to restrict visitors in an effort to protect their residents.

Higher Death Rate in Older Patients with Coronavirus

The older the patient, the higher the rate of death from coronavirus. In China, the mortality rate from the rate has exceeded 15 percent in patients that are aged 80 or over. This may even be a conservative estimate. In Washington State, one particular nursing home saw 18 residents die from the virus.

While scientists do not yet know the exact reason why the disease has a much higher rate of fatalities among older people, it is known that people over the age of 50 are more susceptible to respiratory illness. Coronavirus is an illness that impacts the lungs, making it deadlier for older people. In addition, they are also more susceptible to contracting the coronavirus due to weakened immune systems.

Protecting Nursing Home Patients From Coronavirus

Nursing home industry leaders are discussing extraordinary and unprecedented measures to restrict visits to residents. While family members obviously want to see their loved ones, the traffic of people coming into nursing homes places the residents at risk in an environment where illness can spread quickly. As a result, there is talk of a recommendation to bar all non-essential visitors from nursing homes.

Those visitors who must visit the facility would be subject to extensive screening before they are allowed to enter the facility. The first level of scrutiny that they would face would be at the front desk where they would be subject to a visual inspection to see whether they are demonstrating any sign of illness. This would include family members, workers, and even government personnel. Nonetheless, the general rule would be that family members could not visit absent a compelling reason to do so out of concern that someone could bring the coronavirus into the facility. While this is a drastic measure, it may end up being necessary to protect the infirm residents of the nursing home.

Some states are already taking action to cut back on visitors to nursing homes. Washington, which so far is the epicenter of coronavirus, has already announced a temporary rule that limits nursing home residents to one visitor per day. Restricting visitors is a start, but even a more limited number of visitors can still introduce the illness to a facility. In addition, all staff members and volunteers are subject to some level of screening before the start of each shift at the nursing home.

Connection Between Staffing Problems & Coronavirus

While it appears that many nursing homes are taking some action to protect their residents, one of the reasons why there is vulnerability is due to the lack of staff at nursing homes. In many skilled nursing facilities, the level of staff is inadequate to keep the nursing home sanitary. As a result, infections tend to spread quickly because the limited staff in hand is unable to control the infection risk at the facility. At the same time, there is lax scrutiny paid to visitors because of the insufficient staff at the nursing home. Coronavirus is a severe test for even the best-staffed nursing homes that provide the highest quality care. This is even more so in the lower quality homes that economize on staff in the hopes of maximizing their profits.

What is unclear is how coronavirus will impact the level of regulation and inspection of nursing homes by states and the federal government. Nursing home regulation depends on the ability to send inspectors into the nursing home for several days at a time to perform inspections. They must be present in all areas of the facility in order to be able to perform a comprehensive evaluation of whether the care in the nursing home follows the relevant laws. If states are not able to send inspectors into the homes at the same rate as before, they will not be able to respond to complaints or take action to otherwise keep residents safe.

If government inspectors have any restrictions on their ability to get into a nursing home, it could curtail the quality of regulation that the government can provide. Of course, there may be valid reasons to keep people out when nursing homes are at the highest level of risk. Nonetheless, there may be ramifications that extend beyond the immediate short term as nursing homes may be able to escape accountability for lapses in care.

In the meantime, nursing homes must take immediate steps to protect their residents from a virus that has no vaccination and is difficult to treat in the elderly. Not every nursing home will be up to the task as a significant minority of these facilities struggle to even prevent a simple infection or the flu from impacting scores of their residents.

What Happens When a Loved One Gets Ill or Dies After Coronavirus in a Nursing Home?

If your loved one is living in a nursing home and dies from complications related to Coronavirus, you may have grounds to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit against the facility. Now that we are learning more about how this virus is spread and the significant risk elderly patients face, a facility’s failure to implement proper safeguards could theoretically expose them to liability after a Coronavirus death.

Our Chicago nursing home abuse lawyers will continue to monitor how Coronavirus can impact nursing home patients and will share updates as we learn more.