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Coronavirus Series: Nursing Home Negligence Claims Related to COVID-19

July 15 2020 | Blog
  • Nursing home residents have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic. What can you do if you suspect that your elderly loved one might have been exposed to COVID-19 due to the negligent actions of a long-term care facility? Read our blog to find out.

    Despite the heroic efforts of our healthcare workers, the COVID-19 pandemic has reached tragic proportions in many states. According to The New York Times, more than 1,953,000 people in the United States have been infected with the coronavirus and at least 110,400 have died (as of when this article was written). Once again, our hearts go out to all members of our community who have lost loved ones or who have been personally affected by the outbreak in other ways. 

    As personal injury lawyers, we have devoted our professional lives to protecting the rights of those who have found themselves in the position of physical, emotional, and financial vulnerability due to the negligent actions of others. That is why it is especially saddening to us to see that the virus we’re trying to fend off is especially dangerous to the most vulnerable members of our communityour elderly loved ones and individuals with preexisting conditions.

    In this article, we will take a closer look at how the current pandemic has affected nursing homes, their staff, and their residents. We will also explore the legal options that may be available to you if your loved one might have been exposed to COVID-19 due to a facility’s negligent actions.

    Grim Truth About COVID-19 Cases and Deaths in Nursing Homes

    When it comes to the impact of coronavirus on long-term care facilities, the data leaves no room for doubt. Both the residents and staff of nursing homes have been disproportionately affected by this outbreak. According to the most recent statistics, nearly 40 percent of all COVID-related deaths can be traced to nursing homes and assisted living facilities, since some 44,000 nursing home residents and workers have lost their lives. 

    In Tennessee, nursing home residents account for 5 percent of all coronavirus cases, yet they make up as much as 40 percent of all deaths. In Kentucky, these numbers have come to 19 percent of all cases and 55 percent of all deaths respectively. However, it is possible that long-term care facilities have been affected even more so. According to Kentucky officials, there are still not enough tests or supplies to keep testing the residents of all 285 licensed homes in the state.

    Nationwide, the actual numbers are probably higher than the official count would suggest. This is because states are not required to publicly share the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths in nursing homes. Yet, even the official numbers become a cause of grave concern.

    Nursing Homes are Seeking Legal Immunity Amid Outbreaks

    Although alarming, the fact that many nursing homes are losing the battle against the coronavirus isn’t, in fact, entirely surprising. A large number of nursing homes and long-term care facilities across the US have long experienced many systemic problems and failures that, many times, have not been properly addressed. In some cases, such issues haven’t been disclosed to the appropriate bodies. As we have reported previously on our blog, systemic problems have been reported in a large number of nursing homes in Kentucky as well.

    One of the reasons why long-term and elder care facilities have become hotspots of this pandemic is that, even before the outbreak of COVID-19 in the US, nursing homes already struggled with preventing the spread of infections among residents. According to one report released within the first few weeks of the pandemic, 75 percent of nursing homes in the US “have been cited for failing to properly monitor and control infections in the last three years.” In some cases, the citations were issued for “not telling state officials about an outbreak as unmonitored workers spread disease to patients.”

    Such grave errors related to systemic failures may be construed by affected residents and their families as cases of nursing home negligence, warranting legal action and compensation for resulting adverse health effects. That’s why nursing homes in some states have lobbied for a provision from the authorities that would grant them legal immunity from liability related to COVID-19 exposure. Even though it has been called “a license for neglect,” immunity has been granted to nursing homes in a few states, including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Georgia, Massachusetts, and Michigan.

    Can You Protect Your Elderly Loved Ones?

    If you have a loved one who is either a permanent or temporary resident of a nursing home, long-term care, or assisted living facility, you may be rightfully wondering whether such immunity could prevent you from taking legal action if your family member contracts coronavirus. This is understandably a matter of great concern. To many, it may seem unjust that no action could potentially be taken even if an elderly family member suffered due to a preventable COVID-19 outbreak in a nursing home where negligent actions and systemic failures might have been a factor.

    It is important to recognize that, currently, Kentucky has extended protection from COVID-19 liability to healthcare providers, and Tennessee is working towards doing the same. However, even if such immunity is legalized in your state, it doesn’t mean that nursing homes are automatically protected from all negligence claims. As certain legal experts have pointed out, immunity wouldn’t apply if a facility had become guilty of malpractice or negligence “prior to the effective date of an emergency order or piece of legislation.”

    In the case of an outbreak such as the one we are currently experiencing, nursing homes, long-term care, or assisted living facilities are obliged to take certain measures to limit the spread of disease and protect residents from exposure. Measures may be taken, including implementing stricter sanitation requirements, providing staff with masks and other protective equipment, and isolating potentially infected residents. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued certain guidelines to help nursing homes protect themselves from an outbreak or limit the spread of the virus.

    A failure to implement such measures may constitute a case of negligence for which a nursing facility could face legal action and liability. If you are worried that your elderly loved one may have been exposed to COVID-19 as a result of negligence, it may be necessary to contact a personal injury lawyer to obtain further advice with regard to the best possible course of action.

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