| Read Time: 4 minutes | Elder Law

The recent COVID-19 pandemic attacking the United States and countries around the world has certainly tested the healthcare system, but it has also highlighted major flaws when it comes to infection control. It all began in Washington at a single nursing home, but that state is not alone. Multiple nursing homes across the country have had outbreaks that show infection control procedures are critically lacking.

Infection control is not new. There are infection protocols in place that nursing homes are meant to follow. These are supposed to suppress the spread of viral and bacterial infections. Nursing home staff should follow these control measures, because when they do not, multiple lives are lost.

Infection-Control Issues Were Present Long before Coronavirus

Before COVID-19 became an issue, nursing homes were already struggling to keep dangerous infections at bay. Despite protocols in place, inspectors have cited nursing homes for failing to follow infection control and prevention. In fact, over 9,000 nursing homes (approximately 63 percent of those in the U.S.) were cited for infection control deficiencies according to Kaiser Health News.

Now that COVID-19 has made its spread, it is apparent that even 5-star nursing homes in the country are not meeting infection control expectations. The Washington nursing home where there were numerous deaths, the Life Care Center of Kirkland, is one of those five-star nursing homes.

Inspection reports have shown that nursing homes were cited for infection control procedure errors that include:

  • Workers not washing hands or sanitizing in between patients. Nursing homes that were cited often found workers who were not washing their hands or using sanitizer as they moved in between patients to administer medications, give them food, or even help with daily hygiene. One of the key ways to avoid the spread of coronavirus is handwashing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC recommends washing hands for a minimum of 20 seconds and, if you cannot, using a sanitizer that has at least 60 percent alcohol.
  • Not wearing masks around infected patients. When patients are infected – whether with coronavirus or even the seasonal flu – these nursing homes were found to not enforce wearing masks among caretakers. When someone is ill, nursing home caretakers must wear masks so that they do not accidentally contract that illness. Because even if they do not show symptoms right away, they may transmit a virus or bacterial infection to another patient.
  • Not wearing gloves or gowns in a patient’s room that is under isolation. Part of infection control is to immediately isolate a person infected with a viral or bacterial infection. While caring for that patient, all nursing home staff should wear disposable gowns and medical-grade gloves. This allows them to provide the patient with care, but limits exposure to germs on their clothing, hands, and face. These items should be discarded immediately when exiting the patient’s room and further decontamination measures may be necessary, such as changing scrubs or sanitizing after removing protective equipment.

Little Mistakes Create Large Problems

Whether it is reusing a mask, not wearing gloves, or just not wearing the right personal protective equipment, all it takes is a single, minor mistake to create an outbreak of a deadly virus – as seen with the novel coronavirus in nursing homes this year.

Caretakers must be cautious. Because while they are the patient’s only hope at receiving care, that care could be the cause of a major outbreak and multiple, preventable deaths in a nursing home facility.

The Government Has Tried to Increase Standards, but Failed at Implementation

It is not just the nursing homes to blame. While nursing homes should have rigorous infection control protocols in place, it is the government that should create detailed protocols, stricter standards, and hold nursing homes accountable when they fail to adhere to them.

Failing Infection Control Is Not Just about COVID-19

While COVID-19 has definitely highlighted pitfalls in American nursing homes, they are far from being the sole infection that has run out of control in nursing homes. In fact, some common infections seen in nursing homes, especially when infection control procedures are not used, include:

  • Influenza
  • Gastroenteritis
  • Respiratory Infections
  • Skin Infections
  • Pneumonia and Lower Respiratory Infections
  • C. Difficile Infections

According to one NIH study, pneumonia and lower respiratory infections are still the leading cause of death in U.S. nursing homes. Without proper infection control, these infections can spread rapidly within a nursing home, causing numerous deaths – as we have seen with the recent outbreak.

Holding Nursing Homes Responsible for Illness or Injury Due to Faulty Infection Control Procedures

Whether the nursing home completely ignored their infection protocols or they modified them to suit an inadequate staff, these nursing homes are responsible when patients contract illnesses or die from these preventable infection spreads. You have the right to hold a nursing home financially responsible. Doing so may not only help bring financial peace to you and your loved ones, but also ensure that the nursing home changes their protocols so that this doesn’t happen to another family.

Just some of the compensation you may receive includes:

  • Medical expenses for any treatment of an infection acquired in the nursing home
  • Pain and suffering
  • Funeral expenses – if a loved one dies from a preventable infection
  • Lost wages when family members are forced to quit their job or take time off to care for an ill loved one

Preparing for a Nursing Home Stay and Avoiding Nursing Homes with a Poor Infection Control Record Is Critical

If you are thinking of placing a loved one in a nursing home, the first step is to investigate any complaints, citations, and records of infection failures in that nursing home specifically. These are offered through your local Ombudsman program and the state health department.

Next, you want to plan financially. That means setting aside funding to care for a loved one who is in a nursing home and ensuring that you do not have to settle for substandard care.

To create the best plan possible for yourself or a loved one, contact the Law Office of Andrew M. Lamkin, PC, today. Schedule a free case evaluation by calling the office or asking a question online about long-term care planning.

Author Photo

Andrew Lamkin is principal in the law firm of Andrew M. Lamkin, P.C., where he focuses his practice in the areas of elder law, estate planning and special needs planning, including Wills and Trusts, Medicaid planning, estate administration and residential real estate transactions. He is admitted to practice law in New York and New Jersey.

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