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  • Writer's pictureLeitner Varughese Warywoda

How the Pandemic Has Revealed Urgent Needs for Nursing Home Reform

In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic has made seniors in nursing homes more vulnerable to serious and life-threatening harm. Older adults living in nursing homes have faced risk of exposure to COVID-19 and the possibility of severe illness. Indeed, in New York alone, nearly 14,000 nursing home residents had died of COVID-19 as of early March 2021, according to the New York Department of Health (DOH). At the same time, seniors in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities have sustained injuries resulting from varying forms of nursing home abuse and neglect that have gone unnoticed due to coronavirus infection-control focuses in many of these facilities.

Yet nursing home negligence was a serious problem long before the pandemic, and a recent report from Human Rights Watch suggests that the pandemic has revealed an urgent need for nursing home reform in the United States.

Nursing Home Negligence Has Become More Pronounced During the Pandemic

The recent Human Rights Watch report underscores how serious problems existed at nursing homes prior to the pandemic, and those issues have become exacerbated as a result of COVID-19. Indeed, according to Laura Mills, a Human Rights Watch researcher, “even before the pandemic, the US government failed to ensure that nursing homes were adequately staffed and regulated,” and “the huge number of deaths in nursing homes from COVID-19 and emerging reports of neglect during the pandemic show that these failures have come at an enormous cost.”

In total, COVID-19 infections in nursing homes, including both residents and staff, have totaled more than 1.4 million. Across the country, more than 178,000 nursing home residents have died, accounting for anywhere from about 30% to 40% of all reported COVID-19 deaths in the US. Some experts believe those numbers are actually much higher but have gone unreported, and that up to 40,000 additional deaths in the last year in nursing homes have been tied to COVID-19 infections. Yet the pandemic itself and the circulation of an infectious and deadly disease is not the only problem in American nursing homes. To be sure, the pandemic has illuminated existing issues in nursing homes across the country.

Urgent Need to Reform Nursing Homes in the US

As the HRW report underscores, the nursing home deaths that have resulted from the pandemic reveal existing safety concerns in nursing homes and suggest that there is an urgent need to reform nursing home regulations in the US. One of the biggest problems is understaffing, and pandemic deaths have highlighted that problem. According to the report, “nursing home staff and administrators told Human Rights Watch that understaffing influenced their ability to provide sufficient and consistent support to residents,” and neglect resulting from understaffing became even more pronounced during the pandemic since family visitors were unable perform some of the “essential tasks” that should, in theory, be performed by facility staff.

The report urges health departments to conduct investigations into nursing home abuse and neglect during the pandemic, and for state and federal governments to change laws, rules, and regulations in order to keep patients in nursing homes safer.

Contact a New York Nursing Home Negligence Lawyer for Assistance

If you have an elderly loved one who suffered injuries in a nursing home during the pandemic, you should learn more about filing a nursing home negligence lawsuit. Contact Leitner Varughese Warywoda PLLC today to learn more.


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