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“Death Pits”

Published on April 22nd, 2020

The New York Times reported the death and chaos at poorly managed nursing homes throughout the nation.  In interviews with more than two dozen workers in long-term care facilities as well as family members of residents and health care experts, a portrait emerged of a system unprepared and unequipped to handle the virus and it is getting worse because of the short-staffing, poor training, and lack of leadership amid the growing crisis. Most nursing homes with clusters are for-profit chains with a history of safety violations, persistent staffing problems and  poor infection control.  Even before the pandemic, 380,000 people died each year from infection at long-term care facilities, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

They’re death pits,” said Betsy McCaughey, a former lieutenant governor of New York who founded the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths, an education campaign aimed at stopping hospital-acquired infections. “These nursing homes are already overwhelmed. They’re crowded and they’re understaffed. One Covid-positive patient in a nursing home produces carnage.

At least, 8,000 nursing home residents have  confirmed to have died as a result of COVID-19.  We will never know the true extent since many facilities are covering up deaths and some states like South Carolina refuse to monitor, disclose, or track the number of nursing home deaths.  In the last six weeks, large and shockingly lethal outbreaks have continued to ravage nursing homes across the nation, undeterred by urgent new safety requirements.   Overall, about a fifth of deaths from the virus in the United States have been tied to nursing homes or other long-term care facilities, the Times review of cases shows. And more than 40,500 residents and employees across the nation have contracted it.  These homes, with staff members who receive less extensive training than those in hospitals, tend to struggle to slow infectious diseases. Employees are often poorly paid workers who move between multiple jobs and return home to communities at risk of contracting the virus.

Nursing home industry officials admitted this week that many of their facilities were in crisis and said they lacked the protective equipment and testing that hospitals have received.  So they are asking for immunity from liability for their lack of planning and being unprepared.  It is unnecessary.  The federal Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness, or PREP Act, which was activated in February by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, grants individuals and entities immunity from “claims of loss caused by, arising out of, relating to, or resulting from the manufacture, distribution, administration, or use of medical countermeasures,” related to the COVID-19 epidemic.  And the federal Coronovirus Aid Relief and Economic Security, or CARES Act, a $2 trillion bail out package that President Trump signed March 27 provides liability protections.

Many nursing homes would use pandemic liability protection to avoid responsibility for criminal behavior and neglect, which can lead to patients developing pressure sores and dying from sepsis, or dehydration and malnutrition. While many nursing home facilities and long-term care providers have done a competent job in containing the virus, allowing sweeping immunity would encourage criminals and other bad actors to lower their standards at a time when containment measures prevent families from providing the necessary oversight.

 

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