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COVID-19 Nursing Home Outbreaks: Can Families Take Action?

COVID-19 Nursing Home Outbreaks: Can Families Take Action?

Now that it’s July, nursing homes in Tennessee are all finally engaging in a regular testing schedule; Mississippi’s facilities managed to test all patients and staff last month as well. What we’ve learned: The many outbreaks among long-term care facilities are a grim reminder that the novel coronavirus spreads easily, especially among those who are vulnerable to infection.

The Tennessee Department of Health reports as of July 16th:

  • There have been 175 fatal cases of COVID-19 among nursing home residents and
  • 356 recoveries out of a total
  • 882 cases.

Next door in Mississippi, things are looking worse. According to numbers from the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH), as of July 15th:

  • There are 130 active outbreaks in long-term care facilities,
  • 3,054 residents have contracted COVID-19 over the course of the pandemic, and
  • 622 residents have passed away.

After a peak in June, the number of deaths among long-term care facility residents declined briefly before trending upward again. When considering COVID-19 cases, it’s important to keep in mind that outbreaks are typically seeded weeks or even a month before they become apparent. Likewise, it takes time for preventative measures to kick in, meaning there are likely to be a devastating number of new cases, hospitalizations, and fatalities from this wave of outbreaks. Even worse, there is little anyone can do to fight this oncoming surge.

Are COVID-19 Outbreaks a Sign of Nursing Home Negligence?

After a point, it becomes difficult to fully grasp the immensity of a pandemic—the many families affected, the number of lives lost. However, for the thousands of people with loved ones in Tennessee or Mississippi’s nursing homes, each incoming call can be a cause for fear. Of course, anyone in this position wants to do whatever they can to make their loved one receives the best care possible. Sadly, many facilities routinely struggle to keep up with patient needs. Infection control has long been an issue at the majority of nursing homes in our country—61% of these facilities were cited for deficiencies in this area between 2017 and 2019.

The danger of infectious diseases isn’t new with the arrival of the novel coronavirus. The flu, pneumonia, and other common illnesses cause fatalities each year among already ailing residents. Now, with widespread COVID-19 outbreaks making the news, consumers are beginning to see how common this problem is. Family vigilance is up, and between hearing reports from loved ones and getting a glimpse of poor living conditions through nursing home windows, people are finding cause for worry. Many are wondering if there is anything to be done.

Nursing Home Abuse Claims and COVID-19

The truth about infectious diseases is preventing spread 100% is nearly impossible—just look at how many people get the flu each year, despite the widespread availability of the vaccine and a long history of trying to fight this illness. However, there are things nursing home staff can and should do to prevent infectious diseases from spreading. Some workers in these facilities violate the simplest of requirements, including:

  • Developing care plans for residents
  • Washing hands between patients
  • Washing residents’ hands before mealtimes
  • Following proper food safety practices
  • Identifying and isolating contagious patients
  • Wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) when caring for infectious patients who are in isolation
  • Staying home from work if infected

Around those who may already have compromised immune systems, even small mistakes such as these can cause outbreaks of infectious diseases. With the threat of COVID-19, which has already claimed over 100,000 Americans’ lives, these small measures are more important than ever. Failure to follow them could open up a facility to lawsuits if patients become ill.

Mississippi Has Expanded Nursing Homes’ Immunity During the Pandemic

Unfortunately for families in Mississippi, an executive order passed in April bars nursing home abuse lawsuits except cases involving “malice reckless disregard, or willful misconduct.” In fact, this executive order applies to all healthcare facilities in the state. The rule was meant to protect service providers as they quickly expanded their capacity, using resources that would not typically be authorized. However, it will likely frustrate many who believe their loved ones contracted the novel coronavirus due to caretaker negligence. As of this writing, the order has been extended through July 31, 2020.

No Lawsuit Restrictions in Tennessee for Now

Tennessee lawmakers tried to pass similar restrictions earlier this year with the “Tennessee Recovery and Safe Harbor Act.” The bill did not pass our state legislature, but was only 4 votes short, meaning lawmakers may explore similar options. There is also the possibility of an executive order on the topic, as happened in Mississippi. As of now, if you have a loved one who was mistreated in a Tennessee nursing home, causing illness or even death, you do have the right to bring a nursing home abuse case against that facility. Reach out to the Gatti, Keltner, Bienvenu & Montesi, PLC team to learn about what we can do for you.

Finding Legal Help for Nursing Home Residents

The tragedies of this pandemic have hit all of us hard and left many feeling helpless. If you have a loved one in a nursing home, it’s important to know your legal options should they be mistreated. For a healthcare facility to fail its primary duty—to keep patients safe—is unacceptable.

Infectious disease cases can be difficult to prove, as hazards are lurking everywhere (some without symptoms, even). With the added chaos the pandemic has visited on facilities hurrying to keep up with the latest on the novel coronavirus, finding and substantiating evidence may be harder than usual. The best thing to do if you’re in this situation is reach out to our nursing home abuse attorneys with your case. We have over 4 decades of experience helping families like you file medical malpractice cases, including those that involve nursing homes.

Reach out to our attorneys at (901) 466-2006 to explore how we can help you after a case of nursing home abuse. We serve families and patients in Tennessee and Mississippi.

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