I started my career as an insurance defense attorney and, as part of my practice, defended nursing homes across the state. The cases I was charged with defending were pivotal in my decision to change careers and become an attorney representing the victim instead of the corporation. In the almost twenty years that I have represented the victims of nursing home negligence, I thought I had seen it all until COVID-19 hit.
According to a story published in ’s New York Times, at least 57 residents and workers have died at Andover Subacute Rehabilitation Center in New Jersey. Shockingly, 17 dead bodies were discovered by police acting on an anonymous tip. The piece also tells the story of the daughter of a resident at Sapphire Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Central Queens. The daughter received a call from the facility that her mother had a fever but would be fine. She was also assured that the facility did not have any COVID cases. The daughter was concerned and contacted workers at the facility directly. She learned that COVID was rampant in the facility and 6 people had died that day alone.
The problem is not limited to New York and New Jersey – it is a national problem and South Florida has been hit particularly hard. According to a story in today’s Palm Beach Post, Dade county leads the state’s list of nursing home residents and staff infected with the virus, followed by Broward and then Palm Beach counties. To date, there have been 24 known virus-related deaths in Palm Beach County nursing homes.
As usual, the response has been rhetoric to protect the owners’ profits instead of human life. Nursing home lobbyists have already pushed forward their agenda which goes as far as to request full immunity – both civil and criminal – for their actions during the pandemic. Given the industry’s response to the loss of power to some facilities during prior hurricanes, there is clearly no rational basis to support these proposals.
What is the true problem with the industry’s response to COVID-19? It is threefold. First, many facilities are woefully understaffed. Social distancing is an impossibility for a worker assisting a resident out of bed or providing other daily care. If a facility is understaffed, the overworked caregiver will not have enough time to change masks and gowns between residents. Secondly, despite the enormous risk of death for nursing home residents who contract the virus, many facilities do not have enough protective equipment. Finally, there is not enough testing to prevent workers who have contracted the virus from entering their facility and to diagnose residents who have the virus so they can be immediately isolated.
In the interim, it is imperative that the State of Florida disclose which facilities have been infected with the virus. The corporations’ financial incentive to paint a rosy picture of their nursing homes has clearly infected the information that they provide to the families of the residents. In order to properly address the effect of the virus on this vulnerable population, accurate information and transparency is critical.
This blog is written by Partner Joe Landy. Joe handles many of our nursing home abuse cases and is an advocate for our most vulnerable citizens, our seniors and those living in assisted living facilities.