America is currently in the midst of a public health emergency, the likes of which haven’t been seen for more than a century. The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in millions becoming ill and close to 200,000 dying (as of this writing), not to mention economic devastation to much of the country. The most physically vulnerable population of Americans is the elderly – particularly those in nursing homes and similar care facilities.
When nursing homes fail to take the pandemic seriously and even refuse to let staff members wear personal protective equipment (PPE), are these actions a form of elder abuse? They certainly could be. But many believe that such actions at least constitute legally actionable negligence.
A good example is a recent lawsuit filed by the son of former patient at a Michigan nursing home. His 68-year-old mother died of Covid-19 in April, and he had to watch her pleading for help through a window while he stood outside. That was the last time he saw her alive.
According to the lawsuit, the employees of the nursing home wanted to take all of the precautions mandated by health experts but were not allowed to do so. The director of nursing refused to let staffers wear masks, claiming that they would “scare the patients.” She allegedly placed donated masks in her own office and would not distribute them. She even went so far as so rip a mask off one of the staffers and threw it away.
Several former staff members, who are also suing the nursing home’s owners, claim that the nursing home would not test residents or staff for Covid-19 and would not allow ill staffers to stay home unless their illness symptoms specifically included fever.
The facility has just 87 beds, but has had 19 deaths caused by the Coronavirus. At least three staffers also contracted the disease.
Those who live in nursing homes usually cannot make choices about the care they receive. It is up to the policies and practices of the nursing home administrative staff to ensure that these vulnerable patients are given all appropriate care and protection against a clear and present danger like Covid-19.
Although cases like this are not standard examples of nursing home abuse and neglect, it is easy to demonstrate how they could be seen as such. While this lawsuit is among the first filed against a nursing home for problems related to Covid-19, it very likely won’t be the last.