Nursing Home Residents Are At High Risk For COVID-19

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Identifying At-Risk Adults | Coronavirus in Michigan Nursing Homes

covid-19 nursing home residents at risk

Key Points of This Article:

  • About 40,000 patients vulnerable to coronavirus are cared for in Michigan nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities.
  • Infectious disease concerns have been heightened in Detroit, where all of the city’s long-term care facilities have confirmed COVID-19 cases and dozens of resident deaths have occurred.
  • Michigan long-term care facilities must follow policies to prevent and control the spread of coronavirus, but not every facility can meet the new standards due to understaffing and lack of personal protection equipment.
  • Although a strict “No Visitor” policy is in place, friends and families of residents living in nursing homes can look for safe ways to connect and advocate for quality care during this unfortunate time.

As of April 22, 2020, more than 2,700 coronavirus-related deaths have been recorded in Michigan, along with nearly 33,000 confirmed cases, according to the Michigan Disease Surveillance System (MDSS). Coronavirus disease is caused by a new virus called COVID-19, which is highly infectious. For most people, the novel virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, but for older adults living in Michigan nursing homes, the health risks are much higher. Roughly 42 percent of Michigan COVID-19 deaths have involved people 80 or older.

Confirmed cases have led to deadly respiratory illnesses and organ failure for at-risk populations, including the 40,000 Michiganders who reside in nursing homes, long-term care facilities, skilled nursing facilities, memory facilities and assisted living centers. To make matters worse, many of these individuals are elderly with conditions such as dementia, heart disease and diabetes, and were vulnerable due to quality care breakdowns, lack of support staff, and inadequate infectious disease programs in pre-coronavirus days. As a result, some of the most alarming reports from Michigan’s Department of Health Human Services (MDHHS) show on April 17, 2020:

  • Nearly 30% of Detroit’s nursing home population is testing positive for coronavirus, and at least 124 nursing home residents and staff have died.
  • At two Wayne County nursing homes, 21 residents have died of COVID-19, with 46 other residents battling confirmed cases.
  • In Macomb County, there are 46 facilities with COVID-19 cases, 332 confirmed cases and 128 deaths.
  • Twenty-six employees and 24 residents are testing positive, and 17 resident deaths have been reported at Genesee County nursing home.
  • In Oakland County, 127 of the 200 senior living facilities have COVID-19 cases resulting in 1,038 resident and staff infections and 146 deaths.

Long-term care advocates in the state believe the numbers are much higher and that many facilities are not being transparent in recognizing or admitting publicly that coronavirus has spread among residents and staff. MDHHS announced on April 21 that it will soon list long-term facilities with confirmed cases of COVID-19 on its website.

A History of Poor Infectious Disease Standards at Michigan Nursing Homes

The need to establish policies to prevent and control infection was critical for nursing homes even before the COVID-19 pandemic, and unfortunately, not every Michigan facility met those quality standards. In a review of Medicare and Medicaid certified nursing homes in Michigan, more than 80 facilities have been cited for deficiencies in infection control and prevention over the past three years, including an understaffed workforce. Unsafe conditions can trigger the spread of flu, pneumonia, urinary tract infections, skin diseases, and now COVID-19. 

As coronavirus cases continue to grow and more outbreaks are expected, nursing homes and long-term care facilities in Michigan have been ordered to take additional steps to prevent the disease from spreading. Under protocols set by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention facilities must:

  • notify all residents and staff whenever there is a positive coronavirus case inside
  • create separate care units for any infected residents
  • provide the proper personal protective equipment to residents and staff in the dedicated coronavirus wards in each facility
  • report confirmed cases of residents with COVID-19 to staff within 12 hours, and to the local health department and MDHHS within 24 hours
  • submit daily reports of COVID-19 cases and deaths as well as their bed capacity and inventory of personal protective equipment

The order also directs the MDHHS to work with nursing homes and long-term care facilities on establishing regional hubs to treat patients with significant needs. It may be difficult for many Michigan nursing homes to meet these new standards due to a chronically understaffed workforce and lack of personal protection equipment.

Information related to Michigan nursing homes and COVID-19 is rapidly changing. Be sure to visit michigan.gov/coronavirus for regular updates.

Family Members Can Still Support Isolated Nursing Home Residents

The COVID-19 pandemic is making it challenging for everyone to stay connected with family during this time of isolation, but especially for nursing home residents. Not only have these individuals been cut off from family members but also the health agencies who can most effectively advocate and protect them during this time from neglect and abuse. Here are a few things that can be done to allow for communication with your loved one during this time.

  • Set up a plan to communicate using video conferencing (Skype, FaceTime), Facebook, text messages, or email to keep conversations going.
  • If permitted by the facility, visit often with residents through a window or glass door.
  • Send hand-written letters and cards.
  • Help lead activities using technology like playing virtual bingo, or conducting an exercise class via video chat, or watching a television show together while on the phone.
  • Think of creative ways to entertain your loved one, such as bringing pets, or talented family members to perform outdoors in a location where residents can be in attendance while staying safe and isolated indoors.

Please use these resources and best practices as your best attempt to watch over a Michigan long-term care facility responsible for a friend or family member’s care during this challenging time. And, do your part to stay well so you can advocate for your loved ones if needed. This means practicing social distancing, washing your hands, and staying home from work or taking essential trips when feeling sick.

Legal Help For Michigan’s Nursing Home Residents

Although this is a sensitive time to suspect nursing home abuse or neglect, our team of Michigan attorneys at the Law Offices of Lee Steinberg, P.C., are working to fight for residents who have had their rights violated due to a faulted infectious disease prevention. Please contact us at 1-800-LEE-FREE (1-800-533-3733) for a free phone consultation. There is no fee unless we win your case.

Also Read: 10 of The Worst Nursing Homes in Michigan Named in Government Report

Video Transcript 1

Well, I think nursing homes are ill prepared, despite this virus, because frankly they’re understaffed to begin with. There aren’t enough registered nurses. There aren’t enough health aids. There aren’t enough staff members in general in nursing homes throughout Michigan, and really throughout the United States.

A lot of nursing homes are for profit entities. They’re there to earn a profit, oftentimes for publicly traded companies that you’ll see on the New York stock exchange. Or at least from a private owner. So that goal for that owner is to make as much money as possible. And to earn that profit, unfortunately, they’ll cut corners by not having adequate staff members, not having adequate materials and things at the nursing home in case something like this happens.

So unfortunately, I’m not surprised that we’re seeing such a big outbreak with COVID within nursing homes. They are fixed areas where obviously people are living in very close quarters, and if one person catches it, it’s pretty easy to spread. Unfortunately, I’m also not surprised that it hasn’t been contained, because again, these are underutilized, under staffed facilities with a very, very important group of people who are very susceptible to this disease. And it’s just creating, obviously, a cascade effect that we’ve seen throughout the country.

Video Transcript 2

It’s so difficult because right now most folks are not allowed in to see their loved ones at a nursing home facility, especially here in Michigan. I’d recommend if possible to talk to nursing staff and to talk to the staff and managers at the nursing facility to see if they can facilitate some type of way to communicate, whether it’s by cell phone, by iPad, if they have some type of technology, some type of computer device that your mom or dad or aunt or uncle can use to stay in touch. I’d also, I would be very aggressive in talking to the administrators there to keep in touch with us and with family members to see that there’s been no cases within the nursing home.

If there has been a case, what’s being done? Is that person in isolation? Is that person is far away from nursing home as possible? What communications have you had if there has been a positive case with the state of Michigan or with the county to ensure there isn’t a mass outbreak? You’re just going to have to be very aggressive on this. The greasy wheel or the squeaky wheel gets the grease. That’s just the reality. That’s life. Especially true when we’re talking about hospitals and nursing facilities and nursing homes in general. You’ve just got to be aggressive and keep the lines of communication open with everybody.