Just as we must collaborate to safeguard our society and banish COVID-19, so too is it necessary for us to unite in order protect the legal rights of our elderly citizens.
Healthcare lawyers can help in this crisis by providing patient advocacy, protecting the most severely affected including the elderly who are often not represented, especially when they are in nursing homes.
To slow the rising tide of the pandemic, family members and visitors are barred from visiting nursing home residents. In a troubling, but not entirely surprising display of lousy timing, the Trump administration is also considering relaxing federal oversight on nursing homes, including rules meant to curb deadly infections among elderly residents. This is a foolhardy move on the heels of and in addition to CMS restricting nursing home visitors and non-essential personnel.
Who will protect our elderly and most vulnerable citizens if family and friends are denied access to them and nursing home oversight is relaxed NOW, in the middle of a pandemic? In these difficult times, we need more patient safety, not less.
Nursing homes house about 2.5 million people nationwide. Nursing home residents have already been identified as especially vulnerable to COVID-19. Because of their age and pre-existing health problems, the elderly are at an increased risk of not only contracting this virulent virus but also from dying from it. Nonetheless, the Trump administration announced plans to eliminate the requirement that nursing homes keep at least one infection-prevention specialist on hand. These anti-infection specialists serve a key role, making sure nursing home staff stick to crucial safety rules, such as consistently washing their hands.
Recently, 31 coronavirus deaths were linked to a single long-term nursing home in Kirkland, Washington. The New York Times points out that as recently as last year, this same Life Care Center facility received multiple citations related to failings in its infection control systems. This is precisely the type of risks anti-infection specialists are employed to prevent and to manage.
Now is the time to ramp up oversight of our countries’ nursing homes– when their loved ones are banned from visiting them and there is no one else able to watch over their care.