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Nursing homes and long-term care facilities look after and care for our most vulnerable citizens – the elderly and disabled. The staff and inspectors of these facilities and group homes are responsible for keeping them safe and healthy. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has uncovered weaknesses and holes in the system, resulting in startling numbers of cases and deaths throughout the country’s nursing home population.

In South Carolina alone, as of mid-June, 101 nursing homes out of the 194 statewide have reported cases of coronavirus in residents or staff. This includes 264 deaths (262 residents and two staff members), which makes up almost 44% of all COVID-related deaths in South Carolina as of June 15, 2020.

WIS News took these numbers and cross-referenced them with Medicaid/Medicare statistics and found that 60 of the 101 nursing homes with reported cases of coronavirus failed to:

  • “Provide and implement an infection prevention and control program,” or
  • “Have a program that investigates, controls and keeps infection from spreading” in annual inspections conducted since December 2016.

Some of these past inspection violations include dirty gloves and contaminated laundry.

These numbers only get worse if we take a wider look at the entire country. POLITICO reports that nearly half of all nursing homes in the county have not yet received inspections for proper coronavirus safety procedures. Considering that nursing homes are responsible for one-quarter of the country’s COVID-19 fatalities, this is a serious oversight.

Where are the inspectors?

According to the POLITICO article, the failure to inspect – and the resulting spike in infections – has several causes, the most prominent being lack of personal protective equipment (PPE). Because of the initial and ongoing shortage of PPE, many states chose to give PPE to frontline healthcare workers instead of nursing home and group home inspectors. This resulted in inspection delays for days, weeks, and even months. Some facilities chose to do their inspections remotely, over the phone and with documentation – which can be seriously inadequate and, sadly, may have turned out to be exactly that.

Because family members are blocked from visiting their loved ones in elder care facilities – a policy intended to keep COVID out of the nursing home – they cannot check up on their relatives. Nursing homes, therefore, are not being held accountable in real-time. POLITICO reports that some of these nursing homes ended up with over half of their residents contracting the coronavirus.

The COVID-19 issue in nursing homes is concerning enough that the White House stepped in on June 1st with an enforcement announcement, claiming the Administration “is taking consistent action to protect the vulnerable” by “outlining new instructions for state survey agencies and enforcement actions for nursing homes that are not following federal safety requirements.”

The announcement went on to say that as of May 24, 2020, about 12,500 nursing homes around the country (about 80% of Medicare and Medicaid nursing homes) had reported their required data to the CDC. This included:

  • 60,000 confirmed coronavirus cases
  • Nearly 26,000 deaths
  • One in four facilities had at least one case
  • One in five facilities had at least one death
  • Facilities with a one-star rating were more likely to have more cases
  • Facilities with a five-star rating were more likely to have less cases

The announcement also noted that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will take enforcement actions against nursing homes that haven’t yet reported data as required.

The nursing home negligence attorneys at McGowan, Hood & Felder, LLC dedicate themselves to protecting the health and safety of our vulnerable citizens. If you’re concerned about a loved one in a nursing home or group facility, we’re here to help. Call us at 803-327-7800 or reach out to us through our contact page. We maintain offices throughout South Carolina.