COVID’s Forgotten Nursing Home Victims: Uninfected but Killed by Neglect.

Nursing Home Bed

More than 97,000 nursing home residents in the United States have lost their lives to the coronavirus (COVID-19). Because nursing home employees have been overburdened, caring for ever-increasing numbers of COVID patients, tens of thousands of other residents—uninfected and thriving when COVID struck their fellow residents—have been left to languish in pain, to deteriorate before their caregivers’ eyes, and too often, to die.

If your loved one is in a nursing home, a negative COVID test doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t continually monitor his or her condition. Even if you’re unable to visit in person, try to maintain regular contact by telephone, FaceTime, Zoom, or other video options. At Slater & Zurz LLP, we’ve been handling personal injury cases for over 30 years. An important part of our personal injury practice has been the representation of victims of nursing home neglect and their families.

We know how every nursing home resident should be treated. Nursing home often serves as a sanctuary during a person’s declining years and has a duty to ensure every resident’s proper treatment, comfort, and peace of mind. We also know what can go wrong, and we’re dedicated to redressing those wrongs—compelling the nursing home to compensate the victim and his or her family and setting an example so that mistakes aren’t repeated. If your loved one has shown signs of neglect or suffered unexpected or unexplained deterioration while under a nursing home’s care, call or email us for a free consultation. We’ll evaluate your loved one’s claim and let you know what your legal rights are. If we take your case, our services are free unless we win a judgment or favorable settlement for you.

A key problem is inadequate staffing.

One problem often cited to explain the non-COVID-related deaths is “chronic understaffing” at nursing homes, although some industry groups disagree. A few homes were forced to evacuate because so many staffers either tested positive for COVID or called in sick.

About 70% of the nursing homes in the United States are run by for-profit companies, including private investment firms. To maximize profits, many of these companies have reduced funding for patient care. The amount of time staff can spend with residents has declined, along with the quality of care.
Care for non-COVID residents has been impacted as staff members become consumed tending to COVID patients or are left short-handed as staffers themselves become infected. The staffing challenges have been compounded by lockdowns preventing family members, friends, and volunteers from assisting in residents’ care—feeding, bathing, grooming, dressing, and other tasks. Before the pandemic, the time and attention friends and family had devoted to nursing home residents went unnoticed.
Not only did nursing homes lose the free help from families and others—when nursing homes closed their doors in March 2020, outside care providers such as dentists, podiatrists, and other professionals were shut out. As a result, poorly fitting dentures were not repaired or replaced, leading to increases in malnutrition. Toenails went untrimmed, causing painful conditions in diabetic residents.

The majority of nursing home employees are certified, nursing assistants. As more than 700 nursing home workers have died so far, these are among the most dangerous jobs in the country. Despite the risks, nursing home employees are often paid little more than minimum wage.

The neglect of non-COVID patients has been heartbreaking.

According to the Associated Press, for every two nursing home COVID deaths, another resident dies prematurely from another cause. There may have been more than 40,000 of these “excess deaths” since March 2020—a 15% increase over the expected number of nursing home deaths. The more the coronavirus spreads throughout a nursing home, the greater the number of non-COVID deaths in that home. In nursing homes where at least three in ten residents had COVID, the death rate from other causes was double the number that would be expected without the pandemic.

Numerous reports document residents being left in soiled diapers for so long that their skin began peeling off, bedsores that went down to the bone, and dehydration so severe that kidney failure resulted. In many of the following instances, the nursing home denied wrongdoing and attributed the resident’s decline to a natural progression of the resident’s disease or condition.

Some uninfected residents have died as a result of despair—sometimes classified as “failure to thrive” on death certificates—resulting from long-term isolation due to COVID-based lockdowns, keeping families away, as well as reduced attention from staff singularly focused on COVID patients.

Dehydration and Malnutrition

  • An 83-year-old woman enjoyed numerous activities and was doted on by the staff. After the home was locked down, her daughter sensed that something was wrong. On their second FaceTime call, the woman’s eyes were closed as she moaned, flailed her arms, and repeated “no.” Although 59 of the home’s residents died of COVID, this woman wasn’t infected. She died of severe dehydration. Consumed with COVID patients, the staff failed to make sure that she was drinking. According to her daughter, she “went from being unbelievably cared for to die in three weeks.”
  • An 87-year-old man’s daughter found him unresponsive on the floor in his nursing home. His eyes were rolled back, and his tongue was sticking out. A doctor said that he’d gone so long without water his potassium levels shot up, and his kidneys began to fail. He died two weeks later from a fatal build-up of acid caused by kidney failure.
  • A 92-year-old woman welcomed daily visits from her daughter, who would coax her to eat before going to her room with her to sing songs and eat brownies. When the lockdown began, the daughter told the home’s staff that her mother wouldn’t eat without her. Twelve days later, a staffer sent a photo of the woman to her daughter, who was shocked by how thin she was. The staffer said that the woman hadn’t eaten—not even her brownies. Two days later, after the daughter was called to the home, the mother was gasping for breath; her skin was mottled, and her face was drawn. She died an hour later.

Overall Neglect

  • A 78-year-old man’s daughter hadn’t seen him for three months. Upon her arrival, his room was 85 degrees. His hair was plastered to his head, and his sheets were soaked with sweat. His uncut nails curled over his fingers, and his eyes were crusted shut. He screamed, believing that he was blind. When his daughter opened his diaper, his genitals were deep red, with skin sloughing off. He died two days later from a condition expected to result in death. Although death was inevitable, he would not have suffered needless pain from the neglect he endured.

Isolation/Lack of Contact with Loved Ones

  • During six months, when her daughter wasn’t able to see her, a 79-year-old woman lost 20 pounds, developed bedsores on her backside, and sustained a gash on her forehead from a fall. Her vocabulary dwindled to almost nothing. Her eyes were sunken. Doctors said she was malnourished and wasting muscle. Unlike half the residents in her nursing home, she hadn’t developed COVID. She survived the neglect, and her daughter transferred her to another home. According to the daughter, her mother deteriorated because she’d had “absolutely no contact with anybody who cares [d] about her.”
  • Before the lockdown, the 92-year-old woman discussed above would wait by the elevator for her daughter to arrive each day. The daughter wondered what her mother thought when she stopped coming. “That I didn’t love her anymore? That I abandoned her? That I was dead?” She believes the pain of isolation played a role in her mother’s death.

In Ohio, a nursing home can be sued for neglect.

Some states have passed laws granting nursing homes immunity from lawsuits on behalf of residents and their families. Ohio has not done so. If your loved one has suffered neglect or abuse in a nursing home, you have the right to seek compensation from the home in court.

If your loved one suffered nursing home neglect, we can help.

Nothing can completely restore the peace of mind of a nursing home resident who has been neglected by the very people whose duty it is to provide compassionate and competent care. This injury is compounded when the resident is unable to visit with trusted family members.

At Slater & Zurz, we take the rights and concerns of nursing home residents and their families seriously. If your loved one has suffered abuse or neglect while under the care of a nursing home, call or email our team to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case. One of our nursing home lawyers will evaluate your claim and suggest the best path forward. We’re here to serve your legal needs with compassion, determination, and the demonstrated ability to win.