One of the hardest hit and most at risk age demographics for Coronavirus of COVID-19 are people over 60. A segment of our population that is already vulnerable has become even more so due to this pandemic. Our elders in nursing homes and assisted living facilities are a major source concern. This concern was heightened even more by outbreaks in homes, like the one in Washington, where U.S. spread began.
Nursing home, skilled nursing facilities and assisted living centers have been on lockdown since March 13, when Coronavirus was declared a worldwide pandemic. While this ban was beyond necessary, it has led numerous people and agencies to further question these facilities capabilities to keep its residents safe.
Many of these facilities have long struggled with inadequate staffing, difficulty providing the level of care needed and having the appropriate medical support. What are these facilities doing to combat the Coronavirus? What should you be looking for? What can we learn from all of this to be ensure the health and safety of our loved ones?
Let’s begin by reviewing the facts when it comes to the impact of the Coronavirus on people over 60.
- Symptoms – they are the same for people of all ages – fever, cough, shortness of breath.
- Why is it impacting the elderly more – simply put, they have weakened immune systems. Many also have underlying health conditions that make them not as strong to combat this infectious disease. In Europe, 80 percent of those who have died have had an underlying medical condition, particularly cardiovascular diseases, hypertension and diabetes.
- Death Rate – In the United States, eight out of 10 deaths are those 65+ years old. According to the CDC, of those that contracted COVID-19:
- 31-70% of those 85+ and 31-59% of those 65-84 – have required hospitalization
- 10-27% of adults 85+ and 4-11% of those 65-84 – have died.
- Number of Nursing Homes Impacted – Since the first case in Washington, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and CDC have found at least 400 nursing facilities have a positive COVID-19 Case.
How are Nursing Homes Responding?
Since the first major outbreak in Washington where two-thirds of the entire home tested positive for Coronavirus and at least 37 have died, the government has updated its guidance for nursing homes. These include:
- No outside visitors.
- Restriction on all volunteers and non-essential employees.
- All group activities canceled and common areas closed.
- Active screening of residents and staff for fever and respiratory symptoms.
Similar to the social distancing measures we are seeing across the country, these measures are helping, but the spread is still occurring.
According to a recent The Hill article, “Controlling the spread of infectious diseases has long been a problem at nursing homes. Advocates say a combination of factors created a perfect storm for outbreaks of COVID-19 at these facilities. About 75 percent of nursing homes are understaffed, forcing employees to juggle multiple patients and making it harder to follow proper infection control protocol.”
Nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities are facing similar medical and personal protective equipment shortages as the medical community as a whole. Like so many places throughout the country, they need more tests as well. How well these homes are handling this virus can be attributed to their performance and safety ahead of the virus hitting.
The Example: Life Care Center
There are more than 200 Life Care Center facilities in 28 states. Its Kirkland location was the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak. Since then several more of its facilities have COVID-19 positive cases, including homes in Kansas and Missouri.
When you look at the Kirkland home’s response, many missteps were taken. The first being it was supposed to alert the Public Health Department of any suspected or confirmed influenza within 24 hours. Documents show they had concerns starting on February 10, but didn’t report this until February 26. By then, the virus had already spread.
This coupled along with other severe issues have been found in subsequent days by the CMS, leading the government to warn the home of a $611,000 fine if it does not correct course.
On March 13, the first person in Kansas died of COVID-19. He has a man in his 70’s who lived at the Life Care Center of Kansas City. This facility was listed as “much below average” on the Medicare.gov’s. According to research by The Kansas City Star, “ the Wyandotte County facility received 18 health deficiencies as a result of an Aug. 22 inspection, more than double the average for both the U.S. and Kansas.”
Life Care Centers has seen spikes at two other facilities, another one in Kansas and one in Missouri. At its Burlington location, a 90-year-old residenthas died. Currently, 11 patients and seven workers have also texted positive. In its St. Louis home, six cases have been confirmed including four residents and two staff.
Life Care Centers are far from the only facilities dealing with this virus. In our own backyard, new clusters of cases are constantly popping at nursing homes. Riverbend Acute Care Center has had four deaths, and 33 residents and four staff members test positive.
While no one could have predicted the Coronavirus, seeing how these nursing home and assisted living facilities responded to it reminds us of the importance of doing your research prior to selecting a home for your loved one.
Picking the Right Home, What to Look For
When looking for a nursing home or assisted living facility for your loved one, clearly you have to look at location and what type of care they need first. Once you have that narrowed down, the next most important step is doing your research on those facilities.
One of the best resources is Medicare.gov. This website allows you to search for homes within your desired area and provides you with overall ratings on these homes’ health inspections, staffing and quality measures.
In addition, look at online review sites and discussion boards. How are these places ranking on social media channels and what are people saying about them? The more stars and positive reviews, the better, especially after this current pandemic.
Once you have this part of the research done, consult a lawyer, like Dollar, Burns & Becker, who specializes in nursing home abuse and neglect cases. We can research any public suits or litigation brought against those places. We know the substandard homes and can steer you in the right direction to avoid these places.
Finally, once this pandemic has passed, and it safe to visit each other and nursing homes, go visit the facility. Talk to staff, residents and their families about what it is like there, and what it was like during the Coronavirus spread.
All of this should paint a solid picture of how that facility handles day-to-day as well as crisis.
If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is how much life matters. When it comes to picking a new home for your loved one, you can never be too careful. Let this pandemic serve as your reminder.