Understaffed Nursing Homes at Greater Risk for COVID-19, According to Studies
Residents in nursing homes and long term care facilities make up only about 1% of the U.S. population, yet they continue to account for a disproportionately large share of U.S. deaths from COVID-19. According to an ongoing study by The Associated Press, which counts nursing homes and long term care facilities residents along with its staff, the deaths of these individuals make up about 40% of the United States deaths due to COVID-19. According to many new studies, there seems to be a central cause as to why this is so.
Link Between Nursing Home Staffing and COVID-19
A study completed by a team of Harvard researchers sought to find if there was a connection between facilities with poor ratings according to federal guidelines and the contraction of COVID-19. Instead, in their findings, which were published by The Journal of the American Medical Association, they discovered something very surprising. Their study found when it came to health inspections or quality measure ratings, there was no significant connection between these ratings and the number of COVID-19 cases. But instead, the data they collected showed a prevalent connection between facilities with nurse staffing shortages seeming to be more susceptible to the spread of the virus.
How Inadequate Staffing Makes Nursing Homes More Susceptible to COVID-19
Staffing issues have been a long time concern for nursing homes and long term care facilities across the U.S. According to Toby Edelman, a senior policy attorney for the Center for Medicare Advocacy, nursing homes have struggled to meet federal standards on staffing levels for quite some time. However, now more than ever the effects of this issue are starting to have serious consequences.
When ABC News asked long-term care expert with Justice in Aging, Eric Carlson why this is so he said, “When nurse aides are responsible for too many residents, they don’t have the time to follow the proper infection prevention procedures.” Carlson went on to say, “It’s penny-wise and pounds foolish for facilities to short-staff facilities since this research shows that overworked staff leads to infections and deaths.”
How Nursing Homes Can Mitigate Staffing Shortages
It’s easy to say we should keep nursing homes adequately staffed but, it can be difficult to do so. Seeing the struggle nursing homes continuously face regarding staffing, the Center for Disease Control has released a plan that can help facilities tackle the issue. This plan includes strategies such as:
- “Understand staffing needs and the minimum number of staff needed to provide a safe work environment and safe patient care.”
- “Be in communication with local healthcare coalitions, federal, state, and local public health partners (e.g., public health emergency preparedness and response staff) to identify additional HCP (e.g., hiring additional HCP, recruiting retired HCP, using students or volunteers), when needed.”
- “Attempt to address social factors that might prevent HCP from reporting to work such as the need for transportation or housing that allows for social distancing, particularly if HCP live with individuals with underlying medical conditions or older adults.”
- “As appropriate, request that HCP postpone elective time off from work.”
President’s Response to Nursing Home COVID-19 Spikes
Approximately four weeks ago the President expressed concern that another wave of COVID-19 was about to hit care facilities hard. Fearing this, he announced his administration would provide $5 billion to help facilities counter the virus. This $5 billion is part of a package that includes testing, training, and other support for nursing homes. The president and his administration also announced that the funds would be disbursed on a need basis.
Spread of COVID-19 in WV Nursing Homes
In the early stages of COVID-19, West Virginia was behind the pace of other states in terms of confirmed cases. However, with the virus making its way into care facilities across the state, West Virginia is at a frightening crossroads. The issue has become so concerning that the West Virginia Governor, Jim Justice, ordered yet another lockdown of nursing home facilities on August 13, 2020. According to the West Virginia Department of Human and Health Resources statistics:
- There are 378 active positive cases among residents and staff in nursing homes facilities across the state.
- The top counties in West Virginia with active cases in nursing home facilities are Logan, Mercer, Grant, Raleigh, and Kanawha.
- There have been 25 deaths among residents and staff in nursing homes facilities across the state.
West Virginia Law on Nursing Home Staffing
West Virginia has set standards for its care facilities to ensure the safety and rights of residents, and the standards for staffing is no exception. According to West Virginia Code 16-1-4 and 16-5C-5 sufficient staff if described as, “Sufficient to attain or maintain the highest practicable physical, mental, and psychosocial well being of each resident.” The facility must also have the following:
- A Director of Nursing Registered Nurse full-time day 8hrs/5days/wk
- 1 Registered Nurse/ Licensed Practical Nurse charge nurse each unit each shift
- 1 Registered Nurse on duty 8 consecutive hrs/7days/wk
- For less than 60 beds, the Director of Nursing can count as the Registered Nurse. If no Registered Nurse on duty, a Registered Nurse must be on call
- Staffing shall not, other than during short unforeseeable emergencies, be less than an average of two and twenty-five one-hundredths (2.25) hours of nursing personnel time per resident per day.
The code also has a clearly defined table that outlines the minimum hours of resident care personnel to residents which can be found here on page 93: Title 64 Legislative Rules West Virginia Division of Health.
3 Ways to Stay Connected with Your Loved One
Having a loved one in a care facility during this time may leave you both feeling disconnected. While nothing can beat being together, there are many things you can do to still stay in touch. Some of these methods include:
Set up a Regular Contact Schedule with Your Loved One
Establishing a schedule of when you and your loved one will talk can help give you both peace of mind. During a time where everything seems uncertain having some certainty can help them and you feel more secure.
Try Different Methods of Communication
A good old-fashioned phone call is a great way to stay connected. However, if your older adult is comfortable using a computer, tablet, or mobile phone you can try video chatting. Being able to simply see someone’s face can be very comforting. This will also allow you to better assess their health and well-being. If you and your loved one have an Apple device you can use Facetime to video chat. If you don’t have an Apple device applications such as Zoom, Skype, and Google Hangouts offer video chat calls for free for other select devices!
Send or Drop off Letters and Care Packages
If a phone or computer is not an option see if they can receive mail or packages during this time. Getting handwritten letters, photos, or a piece of home can help your loved one feel less alone. Be sure you thoroughly clean the items going into the package and your hands before placing them in.
What to Do if You Notice Understaffing or Your Loved One Complains of Understaffing at Their West Virginia Nursing Home
According to the Nursing Home Abuse Center, approximately 95% of nursing home facilities across the United States are understaffed. We all know the ramifications of understaffing in nursing homes, but do you know what you can do if you see it happening? Some helpful steps you can take to ensure the safety of your loved one should you suspect understaffing or nursing home abuse include:
- Research the Facilities Policies: Try researching the facilities policies that you or your loved one are a resident of. In the state of West Virginia, the Office of Health Facility Licensure & Certifications is responsible for the oversight of all nursing home policies and regulations. You can find specific information about each facility on the office’s website. By researching specific facilities policies you can better pinpoint the issue and seek further action.
- Contact the Care Facilities Administrators: Reaching out to the care facilities administrators can often help the issue be corrected. Sometimes facilities are not aware of the issues that are occurring. Expressing your concerns with administration can help them fix the problems at hand.
- Contact the West Virginia Ombudsman: the WV Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program is designed to enhance the quality of life, improve the level of care, protect individual rights, and promote the dignity of each senior citizen and/or person with a disability, of any age, housed in a long-term care facility.
- Report Adult Abuse and Neglect Using This Brochure (from WV Medicaid)
- Speak to a WV Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect Lawyer: Unfortunately, sometimes facilities will ignore the concerns expressed by their residents and residents’ loved ones. This is where you will have to take further action. Experienced attorneys will report the nursing home to the proper authorities and take the needed steps to help you seek justice for nursing home wrongdoings.
Free Consultation with a West Virginia Nursing Home Neglect and Abuse Lawyer
West Law Firm wants to help ensure you or your loved one receive the best care in a nursing facility. If you think you or your loved one has been injured by nursing home abuse or neglect, or have suffered from wrongful death we urge you to call us today. You can call us toll-free at 1-877-943-WEST (1-877-943-9378) for a free and confidential consultation.
West Law Firm is located in Charleston, West Virginia, and we serve clients throughout the state. If you can’t come to us, we will send an experienced injury lawyer to you. There is Absolutely No Fee unless and until we recover money for you.
Brooks West is a West Virginia personal injury lawyer who helps people who have been injured by negligence or wrongful conduct. He is the President and founder of West Law Firm and has been an attorney since 2005. Brooks is a Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum member and has been awarded the AV Preeminent Rating from Martindale-Hubbell.