The COVID-19 pandemic has brought renewed focus to nursing home deficiencies, and nursing home residents have been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus, both in Ohio and nationwide.
Around one-third of all U.S. coronavirus deaths are linked to long-term care facilities. A staggering 70 percent of Ohio’s known COVID-19 deaths have occurred among patients at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. But patient advocates say substandard conditions, such as lack of infection control, failure to develop comprehensive care plans, and understaffing, are longstanding problems that predated—and contributed to—coronavirus outbreaks. According to a report from the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Ohio ranks fifth in the nation for nursing home deficiencies.
Nursing home resident harm that results from lack of proper care can be cause for legal action.
Nursing Home Deficiencies Put Residents at Risk
Nursing home neglect and abuse cases are often horrific, headline-grabbing crimes. And while elder abuse is notoriously underreported, it’s not the only type of nursing home issue that flies under the radar.
From 2013 to 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) cited nursing homes for more than 569,000 deficiencies. Ohio accounted for nearly 25,000 of those nursing home deficiencies, the fifth most in the U.S. HHS indicates that of the roughly 340 deficiency types, the top ten account for more than 40 percent of all citations. In Ohio, the top three deficiency types were related to:
- Accident hazards, resident supervision, and adequate assistance devices for residents
- Providing care and services for the highest well-being of residents
- Establishing an infection control program, preventing the spread of infection, and handling linens properly
Nursing home deficiencies are not victimless. They can—and in many cases do—lead to actual harm and even death of vulnerable residents. For example, accident hazards can lead to residents suffering trip and fall injuries; failure to follow residents’ dietary restrictions can worsen underlying health conditions; and not taking disease control measures can cause deadly infections to spread.
A separate HHS report found that 11 percent of nursing home residents suffered harm during their stays. Further review determined that in 59 percent of cases, the harm was “clearly” or “likely” preventable. Physicians attributed much of the preventable harm to substandard treatment, inadequate resident monitoring, and failure or delay of necessary care.
Coronavirus Devastates Ohio Nursing Homes
Across the country, nursing homes have been coronavirus hot spots. Nursing home residents account for more than half of all COVID-19 fatalities in 14 states, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. In Ohio, nursing home patients account for an overwhelming majority of the state’s coronavirus deaths—70 percent as of May 21, 2020—reports Cleveland.com.
The disproportionate number of coronavirus deaths at nursing homes is partly explained by the disease itself, which is more deadly to older patients with underlying medical conditions. Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health, has said the nursing home numbers aren’t surprising, given their high-risk populations living in close quarters. However, some experts believe that longstanding nursing home deficiencies, including poor infection control, are also to blame.
Richard Mollot, executive director of the Long Term Care Community Coalition, told The Columbus Dispatch that, “we have known that infection control and prevention standards are often flouted by nursing homes.” Mollot said it’s not just a lack of basic hygiene, such as hand-washing, that’s to blame. He said a lack of staffing is the biggest contributor to nursing home issues. Another issue noted in the Dispatch article is the design of nursing homes, which makes it difficult to separate sick and healthy residents.
Failure to Protect High-Risk Residents
While nursing home and other long-term care facility residents may be at higher risk for coronavirus, that doesn’t mean nothing can be done to protect them. In March, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced new measures to protect nursing home residents from COVID-19. Since introducing these measures, CMS has reported “sporadic noncompliance” in the areas of hand hygiene, proper use of personal protective equipment, and cohorting (i.e. separating sick people from healthy ones).
Several state Attorneys General are opening criminal investigations into nursing homes for neglect of patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. Residents and their families have also filed civil lawsuits against facilities for allegedly failing to protect residents, but many states have granted nursing homes civil immunity from harm and death connected with the coronavirus. Ohio House and Senate bills would grant immunity to businesses and healthcare workers, except in cases of “willful or wanton” misconduct.
Nursing Home Negligence Lawsuits
Whether a nursing home resident is suffering from unexplained injuries, an infectious disease, financial exploitation, or another type of harm, that individual’s family has the right to ask questions. They may also have the right to file a civil lawsuit, depending on the circumstances. As opposed to criminal acts prosecuted by the state, civil litigation seeks compensation for medical expenses, pain and suffering, funeral costs, and other losses.
Graham & Graham is committed to protecting Ohio’s vulnerable residents from mistreatment. If you suspect that a loved one suffered harm due to negligence at a long-term care facility, our lawyers can help you explore legal options.