Nursing Home Negligence During COVID-19: Marietta Personal Injury Attorney Advises on Possibility for Suit

Morrison and Hughes Marietta Personal Injury Attorney

In recent months, even the most careful, professional health care providers have faced unique problems and heartbreaking dilemmas related to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Despite the health care system’s best efforts, many families are grappling with losing family and are unsure of where to turn for justice. Calling a Marietta personal injury attorney may be the first step to determining what that justice could look like.

News abounds of hospital staff risking their lives to work with home-made personal protective equipment or no protection at all. Likewise, patients and their families have faced tragic situations: patients who cannot get a ventilator, who go in for an unrelated emergency and come out infected with coronavirus. Some patients have died alone, unable to say goodbye to their families because of the quarantine. These tragedies are unfolding, even in situations where hospitals are taking every precaution and exercising due diligence to the best of their ability.

A Few Bad Apples Spoil the Bunch

However, there are also the unsettling accounts of gross medical negligence. Nowhere have these accounts been more troubling than in our elder care system. Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, any Marietta personal injury attorney could see that Georgia’s nursing homes were already under the investigative microscope, thanks to the efforts of the Atlanta Journal-Constitutional. In a September 2019 article, the AJC blew the whistle on “600 cases of neglect, many at upscale [nursing] homes.”

As the fallout from COVID-19 begins to settle, personal injury lawsuits are popping up around the country against nursing homes that allegedly handled the outbreak with abysmal incompetence or deceit.

According to Reuters, the notorious nursing home in Seattle identified by some as the initial outbreak of coronavirus in the United States has now been sued for wrongful death. The lawsuit includes allegations that the company concealed vital facts about the outbreak from the residents and their families. Reuters documents that the Seattle long term care facility has now been linked to about 35 coronavirus deaths.

What Qualifies as ‘Negligence’?

Lawsuits in other states are calling nursing homes and long-term care facilities to task for negligence of various kinds, including:

  1. Failure to take reasonable steps to prevent COVID-19 infection or to limit the spread of coronavirus to other patients.
  2. Failure to diagnose a patient with coronavirus;
  3. Failure to track the spread of coronavirus within the facility;
  4. Failure to provide proper care to patients upon diagnosis with COVID-19;
  5. Failure to communicate risks to the patients and their families upon learning that coronavirus has infiltrated the facility; and
  6. Failure to properly train staff to deal with coronavirus.

Likewise, cases of nursing home misconduct have surfaced in almost every major city in Georgia. In Athens, for example, the County Commissioner “wants to know why the deaths of 10 people at [a local] nursing home from coronavirus were not reported.”

Similarly, Augusta nursing homes made the news when it came to light that numerous local nursing homes suffered a rash of cases, including Windermere Health and Rehabilitation Center. According to the Georgia Dept. of Community Health, there were 75 positive residents, 27 positive staff and 4 deaths.

Obviously, nursing homes have some of the most “at risk” patients when it comes to the novel coronavirus. This brings the following questions to the forefront of conversation:

  1. What consequences are there, legally speaking, when a nursing home fails to protect its residents, allows widespread infection, or even covers up an outbreak causing numerous deaths?
  2. Is the standard of care different for nursing homes than for hospitals or doctor’s offices?
  3. What impact do local executive orders have on the right to sue a nursing home?

Check out our full-length article breaking down the local government responsibility to protect health care providers while also allowing lawsuits against the bad apples.

Your Marietta Personal Injury Attorney Will Advise as to Whether a Long-Term Care Facility (LTCF) is Falling Below the Standard Put Forth in Authority Guidelines.

Given the high risk of spread once COVID-19 enters a long-term care facility, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has concluded that facilities must act immediately to protect residents, families, and staff from serious illness, complications, and death. The CDC has issued the following guideless, which LTCFs and nursing homes should follow:

Keep COVID-19 from entering your facility:

    • Restrict all visitors except for compassionate care situations (e.g., end-of- life).
    • Restrict all volunteers and non-essential healthcare personnel (HCP), including consultant services (e.g., barber, hairdresser).
    • Implement “universal use of source control” for everyone in the facility.
    • Actively screen anyone entering the building (HCP, ancillary staff, vendors, consultants) for fever and symptoms of COVID-19 before starting each shift; send ill personnel home. Sick leave policies should be flexible and non-punitive.
    • Cancel all field trips outside of the facility.

Identify infections early:

      • Older adults with COVID-19 may not show typical symptoms such as fever or respiratory symptoms. Atypical symptoms may include new or worsening malaise, new dizziness, or diarrhea. Identification of these symptoms should prompt isolation and further evaluation for COVID-19.
    • Notify your state or local health department immediately (<24 hours) if these occur:
      • Severe respiratory infection causing hospitalization or sudden death.
      • Clusters (≥3 residents and/or HCP) of respiratory infection.
      • Individuals with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.

Prevent the spread of COVID-19:

    • Actions to take now:
      • Cancel all group activities and communal dining.
      • Enforce social distancing among residents.
      • Ensure all residents wear a cloth face covering for source control whenever they leave their room or are around others, including whenever they leave the facility for essential medical appointments.
      • Ensure all HCP wear a facemask or cloth face covering for source control while in the facility. Cloth face coverings are not considered personal protective equipment (PPE) because their capability to protect healthcare personnel (HCP) is unknown. Cloth face coverings should NOT be worn instead of a respirator or facemask if more than source control is required.
    • If COVID-19 is identified in the facility, restrict all residents to their rooms and have HCP wear all recommended PPE for care of all residents (regardless of symptoms) on the affected unit (or facility-wide depending on the situation). This includes: an N95 or higher-level respirator (or facemask if a respirator is not available), eye protection, gloves, and gown. HCP should be trained on PPE use including putting it on and taking it off.
      • This approach is recommended because of the high risk of unrecognized infection among residents. Recent experience suggests that a substantial proportion of residents could have COVID-19 without reporting symptoms or before symptoms develop.
      • When a case is identified, public health can help inform decisions about testing asymptomatic residents on the unit or in the facility.

Assess supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) and initiate measures to optimize current supply:

    • If you anticipate or are experiencing PPE shortages, reach out to your state/local health department who can engage your local healthcare coalition.
    • Consider extended use of respirators, facemasks, and eye protection or prioritization of gowns for certain resident care activities.

Identify and manage severe illness:

    • Designate a location to care for residents with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, separate from other residents.
    • Monitor ill residents (including documentation of temperature and oxygen saturation) at least 3 times daily to quickly identify residents who require transfer to a higher level of care.

Failing to follow the CDC’s instructions is not, in and of itself, proof of negligence. However, the more ways in which a nursing home falls below the accepted standards of care, the more likely a jury is to find them negligent and the more likely your Marietta personal injury attorney may be to pursue the case. When a nursing home strays into gross negligence, willful misconduct, or bad faith, even the government’s immunity shield will not apply.

If you or a loved one have been the victim of nursing home abuse or neglect, don’t go up against their insurance company unarmed. Hire “The Big Guns!” Give us a call at (404) 800-5297 or click to schedule a free consultation with one of our skilled attorneys.