Nursing home residents have always been at high risk for infection. They are elderly, have weakened immune systems, and often suffer from other serious health conditions. As the residents are contained in close quarters, if left unguarded infections can run rampant through the facilities. A recent Reuter’s review of federal data revealed that nursing home residents suffered up to 3.8 million serious infections annually, resulting in 380,000 deaths. Unfortunately, the Coronavirus will undoubtedly greatly increase these tragic statistics.
A recent story by WTOP News reported that a nursing home in Mt. Airy, Maryland had an outbreak of COVID 19. It resulted in 66 residents reporting positive for the ailment and, as of today, 11 of those residents have been hospitalized.
The Mt. Airy story, however, was just the tip of the iceberg. According to a recent story in Business Insider, Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington reported 35 residents had died of the disease as of March 21st. As the facility only had 120 residents, this means almost 30% of the nursing home’s residents have died from the illness. To put into perspective how devastating the Coronavirus is to nursing home patients, the 35 deaths at Life Care Center nursing home in Kirkland accounted for 60% of the deaths from the disease in the entire state of Washington! Given these staggering statistics, it is not surprising that the facility was cited just last year for failing to prevent infections from spreading.
In these challenging times, there are various steps nursing homes can take to protect their residents. Given the statistics cited above, it is critical that they act now. The facilities must send home any staff that have any signs of illness, or who may have been exposed to the illness. As the residents are already isolated to a building, the disease can only be brought in from the outside. Next, no one should be admitted to the building other than necessary employees. This will certainly place a large mental strain on the residents and their families, but any short-term anguish is far outweighed by the high risk of death.
The facilities must put policies into effect to mandate safe social distancing. For those residents who require care to perform activities of daily living, including toileting and transferring, it is unavoidable that they will be in close contact with the staff. They can, however, be kept at safe distances from other residents. Those caregivers that provide one-on-one care must wear gloves, use masks, and wash their hands after every resident contact. The facility also must be frequently cleaned with disinfectant and bleach.
Most importantly, if a resident shows any signs of the Coronavirus, the resident should be immediately isolated until they are transferred to a hospital or tested negative. According to the Business Insider article, the Kirkland facility transferred their first resident with Coronavirus to the hospital on February 19th. Just 8 days later, firefighters reported that they had received more than a dozen calls from the facility about struggling residents. In the interim, the facility was still accepting new residents. Allowing the most vulnerable aspect of our population admission into a facility where, best-case scenario, the operators knew there was a possibility of a Coronavirus outbreak is simply despicable.
We certainly appreciate that the virus will spread and, at times, some infection is unavoidable. Given these facts, it is critical that nursing homes up their game. It is time for better care, not less care.
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.