Nursing homes have become tense environments with the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the compromised immune systems and the community set-up of many of these facilities, it is easier for residents and staff to catch and spread the virus than for people in other situations. Due to this new, higher risk, nursing homes as well as the way families of residents interact with them have been forced to change in recent months.
Unfortunately, some of these changes have made it easier for instances of elder abuse and neglect to go unnoticed. If you think your loved one may be suffering inside a nursing home due to neglect or abuse, call your state's elder abuse hotline, often found under your state’s Health and Human Services (HHS) department; then consider contacting an elder abuse lawyer to learn more about your loved one’s options for recovery.
Ways that nursing homes have changed since COVID-19 include but are not necessarily limited to the following:
- Understaffing: This was already a prominent issue in many nursing homes, and can lead existing staff members to experience overworking and burnout; this in turn may affect their patience/willingness to offer needed assistance to residents. Since the onset of the pandemic, instances of understaffing have only increased.
- Visitation: Families have not been allowed to see their loved ones in person since the onset of the pandemic. This new visitation rule was made in an effort to slow the spread of the virus and prevent any further contamination inside and outside the facility. However, it prevents families from caring for their loved ones in the personal ways both parties were likely accustomed to. This has resulted in changes regarding the need for and method of daily communication with loved ones.
- Communication: Families with loved ones residing inside nursing homes are encouraged to provide them with their own cell phones if they do not already have them. It is particularly imperative in these times of restricted visitation that every resident have access to a method of communication that does not rely on the availability of a staff member. If your family member does not know how to use a cell phone, talk to your loved one’s regular caretakers to ensure that they will assist in setting up the device and teaching your loved one how to use it.
- Frequency of communication: Whereas it may not have been necessary to contact a loved one inside one of these facilities on a daily basis, it is extremely important to do so during the pandemic. Conditions inside a nursing home can change quickly, and it is imperative to check in with your loved one every day to ensure they are receiving proper care and treatment.
- Nursing home abuse/neglect is more prevalent: Due to the above changes, abuse and neglect of residents inside nursing homes are likely to become more prevalent and are likely to be identified. Nursing home abuse/neglect can be committed both by staff members and other residents. It is imperative to check in with your loved one to make sure they are keeping you up to date on their treatment within the facility.
- Sanitation and supplies: Nursing homes and other care facilities should be exercising extreme caution regarding hygiene practices and sanitation of their facility. Additional personal protective equipment should be on hand at all times, and according to the CDC, there should be at least one person in charge of COVID prevention measures working for the facility.
It is unclear how long each of these changes will last, but it seems likely that at least some of these changes will continue long after the pandemic as the world adjusts to a new normal. Ask questions of your loved one’s care facility and remember to stay as involved as possible in your loved one’s care, even if you are not currently allowed inside the facility. If you suspect your loved one is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1.
To learn about what kind of legal compensation your loved one may be eligible for if they have been harmed as the result of another party’s negligence, contact an elder law attorney.