Coronavirus sheds light on chronic nursing home problems

These days, every headline seems to have something to do with coronavirus. Through all of the noise, I’ve noticed one type of story over and over garnering attention in the media. It’s shedding some light on a deep dark secret that most people don’t learn until it’s too late.

Many (some would say most) nursing homes are dreadful places with inadequate staffing and overall poor care. Around 1.3 million people in America live in the approximately 15,000 nursing homes we have. Sadly, in study after study and survey after survey, Texas ranks dead last when it comes to the quality of nursing home care.

I have some ideas on why this is the case. As a former hospital administrator, I know that if something isn’t measured, it doesn’t get done. Texas has shamefully lacking oversight of nursing homes. Add to that the impact of tort reform, which in many cases caps a nursing home’s liability at $250,000. In short, bean counters and facility owners have a perverse incentive to hire too few nurses, to do too little training, and to put profits ahead of patients.

The story of what happened at a nursing and rehabilitation center outside of Seattle illustrates the problem in this age of coronavirus.

Three residents were relocated to a wing for COVID-19 patients after coming down with symptoms of a coronavirus infection. The roommates of these three individuals were left in the original rooms. Nursing staff members were not provided with any instructions on how to care for them, and at least two of the roommates later came down with COVID-19.

When the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services sent an inspector to the facility, a staff member admitted that “they were told by corporate not to start the roommate on isolation, and continue with surveillance to conserve PPE [personal protective equipment, such as face masks and gloves].”

There’s no surprise that the inspector concluded that the facility “failed to take appropriate actions related to a COVID-19 outbreak. These failed practices may have contributed to multiple residents and staff contracting COVID-19.” As of April 2, 2020, 38 residents/patients and 10 staff members tested positive for COVID-19 at this one facility.

Even in times when there’s not a pandemic, many nursing homes do a poor job of taking care of the residents. In my experience, some of the most common types of negligence include:

• Bedsores. Nursing staff is responsible for protecting resident skin integrity, preventing pressure ulcers, and promptly initiating treatment if one develops.

• Poor communication with the medical staff. Many nursing homes operate with one registered nurse on site at any given time, with most care being provided by licensed vocational nurses. Physicians are rarely on-site, which means it’s up to the nursing staff to communicate changes in a patient’s clinical status that could indicate, for example, a developing infection.

• Patient falls. If residents need help getting out of bed or walking, that’s a role that the nursing staff must provide. Patient falls happen when there are no personnel to help transfer a patient or when no one is available to help a patient that needs to get up for some reason.

If you or a loved one has been seriously injured because of inattentive nursing home care, then contact a top-rated experienced Houston, Texas medical malpractice lawyer for help in evaluating your potential case.

Robert Painter
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Robert Painter

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him for a free consultation and strategy session by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.