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Can Nursing Homes Be Held Legally Responsible for Coronavirus Deaths?

Nursing homes and other assisted living facilities may be held legally responsible for a resident’s death if the facility failed to take the proper precautions to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), or failed to properly treat a patient who was infected by it.

Consider these suggestions from the New York Times on how to protect a loved one who is in a nursing home or assisted care facility.

The coronavirus pandemic has affected virtually every American in some way, but for the elderly, it is particularly dangerous.  For many nursing homes residents, the coronavirus can be lethal.  It is therefore critical that nursing homes take the proper precautions to ensure that residents are not exposed to the virus.

As the pandemic in America worsens, family members of residents at nursing homes and long-term care facilities are complaining that these facilities are running low or are out of basic protective measures such as hand soap and face masks.  In other cases, these facilities lack an adequate staff to care for its residents.  It is becoming clear that many nursing homes are unprepared to adequately protect its residents despite clear federal and state regulations relating to infection control.

The federal government has implemented strict and extensive standards for nursing homes.  One of the most important directives is that facilities restrict visitation of all visitors and non-essential health care personnel.  The hope is that drastically limiting the number of visitors will decrease the prevalence of infections in nursing homes.  Under federal guidelines, nursing homes should also implement these safeguards to reduce the risk of infection:

  • Cancel group dinning and activities.
  • Screen residents and staff for respiratory symptoms.
  • If an employee has signs of infection (e., shortness of breath, coughing, sore throat), the employee should be isolated at home.
  • If a resident has signs of an infection, the resident should be isolated within the facility.
  • For people allowed into the nursing home, they should be instructed on hand washing, avoid touching surfaces, and use personal protective equipment (face masks, isolation gowns, and gloves).
  • Staff members that work at multiple facilities should be identified and screened for infection.
  • Vendors should have supplies dropped off at a designated location.
  • All individuals who enter a nursing home should be advised to monitor themselves for signs of infection for at least 14 days. If they notice signs of infection, they should immediately let the nursing home know.

Nursing homes are also advised to take general precautions established by CDC for all healthcare settings, which include:

  • Cancel elective procedures.
  • Use telemedicine when possible.
  • Limit points of entry.
  • Place residents with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 in private rooms and bathrooms.
  • Limit the number of staff providing care to patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 as much as possible.

If a nursing home resident dies of the coronavirus, our law firm can conduct an investigation to determine if the resident became infected due to negligence of the nursing home’s owners or staff.  We will look to determine if the nursing home followed the proper protocols, and kept a full record of the steps it took to limit and prevent the spread of infection.  If the records show that the owners and staff of a nursing home facility failed to follow established guidelines and standards, the resident’s family members have the right to file a lawsuit against the owners in court.