Even though group homes, nursing homes, and assisted living centers are designed to provide care for those unable to look after themselves, many facilities have failed to protect their vulnerable residents during COVID-19. According to reporting from the Associated Press, a government watchdog says that deaths increased by 32% among Medicare patients in nursing homes amid the coronavirus pandemic.
According to a report from the Department of Health and Human Services, four in ten Medicare recipients living in nursing homes or other care facilities had or likely had Covid in 2020, with overall deaths spiking by more than 165,000 compared to non-pandemic years. David Grabowski, a long-term care expert and Harvard health policy professor, is quoted in the article “Watchdog: Nursing home deaths up 32% in 2020 amid pandemic” as saying, “We knew this was going to be bad, but I don’t think even those of us who work in this area thought it was going to be this bad… [These] were not individuals who were going to die anyway. We are talking about a really big number of excess deaths.”
Rather than looking at causes of death on individual death certificates, investigators used a method of estimating “excess” deaths in a group following a calamitous event by comparing the number of overall deaths to that of previous years. When compared to 2019, death rates in 2020 were higher in every month, with two particularly hard-hitting spikes in April and December of 2020. It’s that second spike that causes concern. According to Nancy Harrison, a deputy regional inspector general who worked on the report and who is quoted in the AP article, “This is happening long after it was clear that nursing homes were particularly vulnerable… Why did they remain so vulnerable?”
The American Health Care Association and LeadingAge, a nursing industry group, conclude that these statistics reflect a grim reality: society and the government did not place a high enough priority on protecting our elderly loved ones. Instead, our most vulnerable population was treated as expendable.
Another cause of concern is that Medicare apparently did not require nursing homes to report Covid cases and deaths until May 8, four months into the pandemic year. Even worse, low-income nursing home patients covered by Medicare or Medicaid were more likely to have contracted the coronavirus. According to the report, more than half of the Medicare patients in nursing homes in Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, and New Jersey had Covid by December of 2020.
Due to haphazard government measures, shortages of PPE, and a disregard for the elderly, the pandemic needlessly claimed the lives of thousands of people who might otherwise have lived many years yet.
At the Law Office of Reuven Epstein, we advocate for our clients in nursing home abuse and elder care neglect cases in and around Rockland County, NY. If someone you loved died in a facility during the pandemic, give us a call for a free case evaluation. We make it our duty to help those who cannot help themselves.