As injury lawyers, we seek justice on behalf of our clients who have been harmed due to the negligence of others. When we handle our nursing home abuse cases, our investigations are unique as we are routinely fighting for clients who cannot speak, nevertheless fight, for themselves. As nursing home residents are one of the most vulnerable parts of our population, it is no surprise that these residents suffered the most during the pandemic.
We are still in the middle of the pandemic, yet new stories of coverups of nursing home COVID deaths are common. A January report by the New York Attorney General’s office found that the New York State Department of Health may have undercounted the number of COVID deaths in nursing homes by as much as 50%. The initial, highly reported outbreak of 45 deaths in a single nursing home in the State of Washington at the beginning of the pandemic was only a sign of the devastation that was yet to come. Despite nursing home residents only making up less than one percent of our population, the ACLU reported that six months into the pandemic, nursing home residents accounted for almost half of the COVID-19 deaths in our country. On its face, this statistic is alarming, however the fact that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) took months after declaring COVID-19 a national emergency to start requiring nursing homes to report deaths and infections means the data is certainly incomplete.
As nursing home abuse lawyers, the gruesome reality of the number of deaths – and how they were handled – was not a surprise to us. A nursing home in Harlem hid 26 COVID-19 related deaths from the state by shipping bodies out of the facility. In New Jersey, a facility hid bodies in a shed. These horrific stories are occurring in states across our country. Despite these disgusting events, as of June 29th, only 41 states report deaths in nursing homes, and the level of detail for many is lacking.
We now know that things are much worse than we previously thought. A story in the September 10, 2021 USA Today reported that a recent study found more than 16,000 COVID-19 nursing home deaths were missing from government counts. The article cites an analysis in JAMA Network Open, a peer-reviewed publication of the American Medical Association – that these “missing” deaths equate to 14% of what the researchers believe the true death toll in nursing homes was for the calendar year 2020. Another 68,000 cases were missing before a federal reporting requirement was put into effect. The bottom line – four in ten deaths went unreported before the requirement.
As nursing home abuse lawyers, we know that these events are simply business as usual. There are certainly many people who dedicate their lives to caring for and protecting nursing home residents. Unfortunately, far too many corporate owners of nursing homes view their own residents as a source of profit instead of as human beings.