In a survey of about 54% of nursing homes in the United States, more than 60,000 residents have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and nearly 26,000 have died, according to a report issued by the Centers for Medicare & Medicare Services (CMS). Additionally, 35,000 staffers also tested positive and 449 have died.
CMS began requiring nursing homes to report cases of COVID-19 in April. The agency’s report also gives state-by-state breakdowns.
The data was made public for the first time Monday. CMS Administrator Seema Verma says she expects more facilities to report cases each week. Those that fail to report their cases will face penalties and fines. But, Verma said, allowances will be made for “honest errors” in reporting.
What the data shows is not necessarily surprising. One in four facilities has at least one COVID-19 case and one in five has at least one COVID-related death. Nursing homes are filled with elderly and vulnerable residents who are at greater risk for developing severe symptoms of the virus and of dying from it. Another not-so-surprising discovery is that one-star nursing homes – ones that rank at the bottom of the agency’s Nursing Home Compare program – were more likely to have more cases of COVID-19 compared to nursing homes with a five-star rating. The Nursing Home Compare program rates nursing homes on a five-star scale based on 15 different physical and clinical measures.
One reason why nursing homes have become a hotbed for the coronavirus is that there is inadequate testing of staff. “It’s clear to us that it was likely spread by staff coming into the nursing homes and some issues with them not maybe being screened appropriately or asymptomatic spread,” Verma said. “That’s why we’re emphasizing doing weekly testing of staff.”
Beasley Allen lawyer Alyssa Baskam, who represents individuals injured or families of those who have died as a result of nursing home abuse or neglect, recognizes the challenges families with loved ones in long-term care facilities face in light of the pandemic. Many facilities are still on lockdown, strictly limiting access for visitors to physically check up on loved ones.
“One thing families can do is encourage their loved ones to be patient and follow social distancing measures put into place in their facility,” Baskam said. “This can be especially difficult for residents with dementia who may not understand that these new measures are intended to protect them.”
For family members concerned that their loved ones are not receiving good care, or worried that their love one’s facility is not following COVID-19 guidelines, Baskam encourages speaking with the facility’s director of nursing or administrator about your concerns. For remaining concerns, Baskam recommends calling the Long-Term Care Ombudsman or the State Department of Health Long-Term Care Ombudsman for your state. Friends and family can also contact their legislators and local organizations to push for more testing and protective equipment for their loved one’s facility.
If you or your loved one need help navigating these new nursing home distancing measures, or if you have concerns about the treatment and care your loved one is receiving in a facility, our nursing home lawyers are here to help guide you.