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Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect: The Unseen Effect of COVID-19

For almost a year, families across the country have been denied the opportunity to visit their loved ones at nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and other long-term care (LTC) facilities. Keeping COVID-19 under control has resulted in families being separated from their elderly and sick loved ones. It has also been an unfortunate opportunity for another threat to spread around these facilities – unreported abuse and neglect, which is often the result of overworked and stressed staff.

According to the 2019-2020 Pennsylvania Department of Aging Protective Services Report, the agency saw a 41% drop in nursing home abuse reports after COVID-19 mitigation efforts (including lockdowns) were implanted. Mandatory abuse reporting from nursing home facility administrators and employees was also down 18% after steadily climbing for the past several years. These falling numbers are a cause for concern as they mean fewer opportunities for state agencies and watchdog groups to intervene before abusive and neglectful conditions result in patient injuries or death. In a November 19, 2020 article, U.S. News reported on the thousands of “excess deaths” that have occurred at nursing homes since the start of the pandemic that were the result of caregivers not being able to fully provide the care needed.

What Is Nursing Home Abuse / Neglect?

Nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and LTC facilities are a cornerstone of caring for our aging and infirm populations. Every year, millions of Americans are admitted into these facilities to receive medical care and services that they can no longer provide for themselves.

Nursing homes and LTC facilities are responsible for the medical care and management of their residents along with personal and social care. Unfortunately, with the variety of services provided by these facilities and the number of residents to be cared for, abuse and neglect is common and can take many forms. Examples of abuse and neglect include:

– Failing to ensure that proper medication is administered and the correct dosage is provided;

– Failing to ensure that a patient’s specific care plan is being followed and implemented;

– Failing to ensure that residents are seen by a physician for new or worsening medical conditions, such as infections;

– Failing to regularly move residents with mobility issues, putting them at risk for pressure ulcers (“bedsores”), which can lead to severe infection if not properly treated;

– Failing to ensure that the resident receives adequate nutrition;

– Failing to ensure that the resident is adequately groomed and bathed;

– Failing to ensure that the resident’s living space is clean and habitable;

– Physical or verbal assault; and

– Using unreasonable restraints or secluding the resident.

Residents with certain conditions that impair their ability to recall and communicate (such as Alzheimer’s disease) and mobility issues (such as paralysis following a stroke) are especially at risk for suffering abuse or neglect.

COVID-19 and Nursing Home Facility “Lockdowns” Effects

Nursing home and LTC staff members have faced overwhelming hardship and trauma every day since COVID-19 began spreading around the country last year. To this day, they continue to put themselves and their loved ones at risk just by showing up to work. The resulting stress, anxiety, and fear is incalculable, and it has undoubtedly had an effect on the residents. Add in staff shortages and increased demands of the job with social distancing and quarantine measures, and there is no question that these facilities are stretched dangerously thin.

Moreover, facility lockdowns have resulted in decreased opportunities for families to investigate and identify resident abuse and neglect. Family members are the main advocates for their loved ones residing at nursing homes and other LTC facilities. Being prevented from visiting these facilities due to COVID-19 makes it difficult for family members to determine whether their loved ones are receiving adequate and proper care.

How To Help A Loved One During Lockdown

If you are concerned that your family member has suffered from or is currently a victim of nursing home abuse or neglect, it is critical that you advocate on their behalf and reach out for help.

In Pennsylvania, concerns of elder abuse or neglect should be reported to the Pennsylvania Department of Aging.

Complaints regarding Nursing Home care can also be directed to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Beyond reporting suspected abuse or neglect, families should also be proactive to help protect their loved ones during this difficult time. First, selecting a good nursing home or facility is most important. If you are not happy with the care that a facility is providing to your loved ones, you should be open to looking for a new facility, as your family member is not a “prisoner” at the facility and can be discharged to another facility.

During the lockdown period, it is also imperative that you maintain open lines of communication with the resident and regularly talk to them over the phone (or, ideally, via Skype/FaceTime) to know how they are doing and if their needs are being met. Do not be hesitant to frequently speak with the LTC facility staff that is providing care to your family members, as you have a right to know how your family member is doing and ensuring that proper treatment is being provided. Be an advocate for your loved ones, as oftentimes, no one else will.

Finally, if you believe your family member has suffered abuse or neglect at a nursing home, rehabilitation center, or long-term care facility, or suspect abuse and neglect (as it can be difficult to determine), seek legal help. Ostroff Law has a team of attorneys that specialize in nursing home abuse and neglect cases, and we will investigate these cases at no cost to you.

Attorney Bios

Christine ClarkeChristine Clarke is an accomplished personal injury attorney who has successfully represented injured clients in state and federal jury trials. She has represented clients against some of the largest pharmaceutical companies and hospital systems in the country, and has won. Her record of verdicts exceeds $100 million. Christine earned her Bachelor of Science degree from James Madison University, and her law degree from Temple University Beasley School of Law.






Ryan Michaleski is an experienced trial attorney who focuses his practice solely on personal injury cases, ranging from motor vehicle accidents, premises liability and nursing home abuse/neglect where his clients have suffered serious and permanent injuries. He spent over a decade as a defense attorney and was most recently a partner at a national insurance defense firm, where he handled nursing home abuse and neglect matters, as well as automobile, premises, products and general liability matters. Ryan received his law degree from the Widener University School of Law-Wilmington and his undergraduate degree from Ursinus College.

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