COVID-19 & Massachusetts Nursing Homes:  What’s Worse – The Virus or The System?

The coronavirus epidemic has caused heartache enough for people who have been infected or lost loved ones due to the infection.  And while everyone is (for the most part) understandably taking measures to protect themselves and safeguard their own health, who is protecting our seniors and the frail in Massachusetts nursing homes?  Is the thinking for many people who don’t have a loved one in a nursing home, “That’s not my problem?”

If this viral epidemic has exposed anything, it’s exposed how few Massachusetts nursing homes regularly take measures necessary to prevent the development or spread of viruses and bacteria in their facilities.  As a Massachusetts nursing home neglect lawyer, I can assure my readers:  It’s a fact that most nursing homes and “skilled nursing facilities” are filled with viruses and infectious diseases.  Don’t be fooled by what you can see in these facilities, with the naked eye.  It’s also what you can’t see that threatens patient health & safety:  Viruses and bacteria.  To keep these infectious diseases at bay requires diligent effort and attention to proper disinfection procedures, methods, procedural systems and algorithms.  And the Coronavirus epidemic has exposed this (literally) dirty little secret:  That as many as two-thirds of nursing homes in Massachusetts were cited a minimum of once in the past three years for deficiencies in infection control.

Massachusetts law requires nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, “skilled nursing facilities”, assisted living facilities as well as businesses not related to health care, to undertake prudent measures to to reduce the risk of spreading the Coronavirus as well as other infectious diseases.  Among these measures are strict disinfection protocols, as well as constant monitoring of any employee or patient who has exhibited symptoms of the virus, such as fever, dry cough or muscle aches and pains.  Once such a potentially infected person has been identified, an investigatory process known as “contact tracing” must be immediately implemented.  This involves re-tracing that person’s contact with other individuals, to warn those individuals that they may have been infected with the virus, and taking reasonable measures to remove that person from the facility’s population.

One such story of how these measures were allegedly not taken at a Massachusetts long-term care facility, involves the Holyoke Soldiers Home.  Local and national media outlets, including the Washington Post, reported earlier this week that this facility is under state and federal investigations following the reported deaths of more than 32 patient deaths there related to COVID-19, with reportedly almost 70 employees testing positive for the virus.  These numbers are highly indicative that the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home failed to provide appropriate care to its patients as well as adequate health protection for its employees.   Nursing home and long-term care facilities that violate the applicable standard of care in such situations, can be held liable for resulting deaths and injuries.  But what will be legally key in such lawsuits, will be establishing precisely what the standard of care is in this COVID-19 epidemic.  This is an entirely new medical, social and legal situation that we are operating in.  Fortunately, our success in holding nursing homes liable for patient neglect or abuse provides us with decades of experience in this field.

For anyone that has a loved one in a Massachusetts nursing home or long-term care facility, you must be constantly vigilant in your oversight of your loved one’s care – and yes, you must engage in this oversight during all of your visits.  Do not “assume” that your loved one is being cared for properly.

  • Never structure your visits so that they are predictable:  Always vary the days and times that you arrive.
  • Always inquire – with the nursing supervisor, not a “health aide” – when the last time was that your loved one’s clothing, chair, bed, furnishings, and bathroom were disinfected.  Not just cleaned to the naked eye, but disinfected.
  • Ask what disinfecting agents were used, and even ask to see what ingredients are contained in these bottles.  It could be ordinary soap & water.  Do not take anything for granted.
  • Pay careful attention to other patients on the floor:  Are they coughing and/or sneezing?  Do they seem ill?  Do they seem that they are not receiving adequate attention?

If we can help you in any way, feel free to call us at either Ph.:  (617) 285-3600 or Ph.:  (781) 320-0062.  Or send us a contact form.  We won’t charge you to talk with us about what is going on.  We hold nursing homes, “skilled nursing facilities” and assisted living facilities legally accountable when they fail to provide the standard of care due their residents and patients.  And we don’t take excuses in the process.