In an article on November 19, 2020, the Associated Press reported in Not just COVID: Nursing home neglect deaths surge in shadows that in addition to over 90,000 deaths from COVID, there have been at least 40,000 excess deaths in long term care facilities since the pandemic began. Although not caused by COVID, these excess deaths are due in part to neglect which includes starvation and dehydration.
Residents are dying slowly, painfully, alone, and behind closed doors. The neglect is due in large part to short staffing. In response to this article, The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care has demanded that this unnecessary harm and death must be addressed immediately.
Consumer Voice calls on Congress to:
- Ensure adequate numbers of well-trained and well-compensated staff. Staff are underpaid and overworked. Staff needs to receive increased compensation, including hazard pay during the pandemic; adequate benefits, such as health care and paid sick leave; and assistance with childcare. They must be provided with sufficient quantities of necessary personal protective equipment (PPE). We cannot ask our healthcare professionals to put their lives on the line without properly compensating and protecting them. We must also ensure they do not have impossible workloads by establishing a minimum staffing standard. In addition, staff must be properly trained so they are equipped with the skills, knowledge, and competencies they need. Currently, temporary nurse aides are caring for residents, some with only 8 hours of training. A plan must be implemented to fully train these staff to provide proper care, training that must include basic infection control procedures, such as handwashing and proper use of PPE, all ongoing problems recently cited by the federal government.
- Oppose any kind of immunity from civil liability for nursing homes: Since the pandemic began, at least half of the states, including all but one referenced in the AP article, have passed laws preventing residents and families from holding the facilities accountable in court. These laws have sanctioned negligent and harmful care that has allowed facilities to escape any liability. Not only does this mean that facilities in the article will face no repercussions for their substandard care in the past, but that current and future residents face the prospect that this poor-quality care will continue.
At the same time, CMS must also act. The agency must:
- Increase oversight of resident care. For months, regulators have rarely been in facilities, and oversight has focused almost exclusively on infection prevention. Poor care has gone undetected and unaddressed. CMS must direct state survey agencies to focus on resident care any time inspectors are in facilities.
- Require facilities to permit families to conduct compassionate care visits. CMS must allow at all times at least one family member to enter facilities and provide essential support and assistance for residents who have suffered physical or psychosocial decline or are experiencing distress: Many states have acknowledged that families can provide the necessary care.
Finally, Consumer Voice calls on advocates across the country to contact their state and federal representatives and CMS officials to tell them to act now to prevent tens of thousands of Americans from neglect and death.
Click here to use the Consumer Voice advocacy tool to tell congress to say NO to immunity for nursing homes, and add a note to ask them to act immediately to ensure adequate numbers of well-trained and well-compensated staff in nursing homes.