The coronavirus presents new and challenging concerns for many sectors of our society. This is all the more so with nursing homes. Because the virus is easily spread among people living in close proximity, and because it is especially deadly for older persons with health issues, nursing homes provide fertile ground for catastrophe. As a stunning example, a Life Care Center nursing home in Seattle has had thirty residents test positive for the virus with another nineteen having already died.
Viral infections in nursing homes are nothing new; however, one big variant is that there is no vaccine currently available for the coronavirus. Despite these challenges, nursing homes are required to take all measures possible to avoid the infection and spread of any virus.
It is not acceptable for a nursing home to claim that it cannot control the spread of the coronavirus because there is no vaccine. As detailed below, nursing homes in Jacksonville are already routinely cited for failing to implement standard infection control measures. This means that nursing home staff are not properly trained in preventing the spread of disease. The result is that infection is spread by: unwashed hands; gloves used by staff on more than one resident; insufficient isolation protocols for contagious residents; improper housecleaning and laundry service; and a lack of training to identify residents suffering from a contagious illness.
Simply put, when you add a pre-existing wholesale lack of preparation with the challenges presented by a new illness, you get a disaster that could have been prevented or minimized. The coronavirus was not unforeseeable. To the contrary, new viruses appear all the time, with recent examples including SARS, MERS, Zika, the bird flu and the swine flu. In fact, the coronavirus presents the exact scenario that infection control measures are designed to address.
In the greater Jacksonville and Northeast Florida area, fifty-two of the nursing homes have been cited for insufficient infection control measures. One of the measures used to rank nursing homes by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services relate to infection control measures in place at each nursing home.
In assessing the nursing homes’ infection control measures, state inspectors employed by Florida’s Agency for Healthcare Administration focus on:
-training of staff in transmission precautions to be taken;
-use of personal protective equipment;
-hand washing and glove use;
-laundering of linens and towels; and
-measures in place to detect the spread of infections.
Our lawyers have handled many infection cases against Jacksonville area nursing homes including: urinary tract infections; clostridium difficile (“C. diff.”) infections; pulmonary infections; scabies; and infected bedsores. One thing we have noticed in almost every infection case is that signs and symptoms of the infection were overlooked or ignored. With elderly and infirm people, it only takes a few days for an infection to turn into deadly septic shock.