An opinion columnist at Bloomberg published an article on April 6, 2020, in which he suggests that COVID-19 deaths worldwide are being underreported because they often don’t include deaths from residents at nursing homes. In France last week, 884 deaths in nursing homes were unexpectedly added to the global tally, bringing France’s toll to 1,355. The article makes a couple of important points, namely that nursing homes are especially vulnerable to the coronavirus because residents are elderly and often have underlying health conditions, and that “there’s also not enough staff, reflecting years of health-care spending stagnation even as populations have aged.”
Citing a median wage rate of $11.57 per hour for personal-care workers in the U.S., the column suggests that wages, equipment, and training are too low, which in the face of a novel coronavirus, is a perfect storm that will cause extraordinary and needless suffering and death in nursing homes worldwide.
The facts in the article are essentially correct, but the reason why nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities in the U.S. are in bad shape is not that the Federal Government isn’t paying enough for services. It is instead because skilled nursing facility operators are too often looking to maximize profits by paying minimal amounts for staffing, equipment, and training.
You might think that if the government, through Medicare, is already paying $5,000+ per month (Original Medicare coinsurance is up to $170.50 per day) for a single bed in a skilled nursing facility, that would be enough to cover basic food, shelter, and nursing support. Not so. Facility operators have discovered that if they understaff, pay staff the minimum, scrimp on services, don’t buy new equipment, and spend nothing for training, their profits go up! When a novel coronavirus comes along and such institutions are woefully unprepared because their facilities were already understaffed and poorly managed, we start seeing the impact in mortality statistics.
When a senior citizen dies in a skilled nursing facility in April 2020, unless that resident tested positive for coronavirus, the cause of death will most likely be written as ‘heart failure’ or ‘stroke.’ Will anyone do an autopsy? Will anyone ascribe such events to understaffing and poortraining in properhygiene procedures? Probably not.
The sad truth is that skilled nursing facilities will lose a lot of residents in the coming weeks due to COVID-19, and the operators of such facilities will try to persuade the public that it was unavoidable. Don’t buy it. Well-managed, well-staffed, and well-trained facilities will get through the pandemic just fine because they follow the correct procedures.There are already rigorous protocols in place to contain the spread of diseases. Unfortunately, the ones that don’t follow the protocols will soon become obvious.
If you have any questions or concerns about a loved one in a skilled nursing facility, feel free to contact our law offices and we’ll be glad to direct you to the appropriate resources.
Attorney Wendy York of York Law Firm specializes in prosecuting elder abuse and wrongful death cases. For further information, please visit us at www.yorklawcorp.com.