At Cowan & Hilgeman, we try to write articles that are timeless: Questions and answers that will make as much sense in 5 or 10 years’ time as they do today. The present novel Coronavirus outbreak, however, has created a pressing situation that needs to be addressed immediately: How to keep your elderly relatives safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cowan & Hilgeman has developed an excellent reputation in Montgomery County and the Miami Valley for fighting abuse, neglect, negligence and wrongful death in nursing homes. We have written extensively about how to spot potential mistreatment of your elderly loved one while in a nursing home or residential care facility, and what to do if your elderly family member develops a pressure ulcer (otherwise known as a bed sore) while in care.
But what happens when you are unable to visit, monitor and advocate for your elderly family member?
On March 11th 2020, The Ohio Department of Health and the Ohio Department of Veterans Services issued an order limiting the number of nursing home/assisted living visitors to one person per resident per day. Exceptions can be made for end-of-life cases. The order will require that these facilities screen all individuals at every point of entry, including employees, vendors, family members, etc. Each individual will be screened for signs of illness and must submit to a temperature reading to gain entrance. All facilities will be required to keep a log of all who are admitted access.
To reduce the spread of COVID-19, we should all practice ‘social isolation’. This can be especially difficult for those with a parent or relative in residential care. Our elders rely on regular visits for love and support, but also so we can look out for their best interests. If we become sick ourselves, we will not be able to visit them at all, leaving them without an advocate.
Staff shortages in nursing homes and assisted living can be deadly
Aside from dealing with the illness itself, understaffed nursing homes can be incredibly dangerous for residents. Abuse and neglect become a bigger problem as the resident to staff member ratio increases out of control. Neglect and abuse on the part of the nursing home staff can cause psychological problems, physical illnesses and even death among the nursing home residents. Under-staffing of a nursing facility may add to psychological problems and physical illnesses among the staff members as they experience increased stress.
Physically dependent residents suffer the most. Bed-bound patients must be turned and moved regularly to prevent bed sores and muscle atrophy. Incontinence pads and diapers must be changed regularly to prevent infections. Residents who need help getting to the bathroom can instead be left to sit for too long in their own waste, leading to skin and genitourinary infections. Patients who need assistance with grooming, self-care and changing can be left to fend for themselves while more demanding residents dominate the attention of staff, which can lead to depression and physical degradation. If left to their own devices for too long, some residents try to do things unassisted, which can lead to falls and concussions.
Nurses who are understaffed may have problems feeding and giving medications to all of the residents on a routine schedule. This can lead to malnutrition, deficiencies in nutrition and other complications caused by not getting their medications on schedule. Dehydration can be especially dangerous in the elderly.
What you can do to help
1 – Visit as often as you can, as long as you are healthy
It will keep your loved one happier, healthier and safer. You will be able to nip problems in the bud before they become much larger problems that can have much more serious consequences. You can also help to care for your family member to lighten the load on nursing staff.
2 – If you cannot visit, call every day
Ask your relative if they are being properly looked after, if they are being fed, groomed, changed and assisted properly. Ask them if their needs are being met and if they are happy. If the answer to any of your questions is ‘no’, contact the Staff Nurse or management immediately.
3 – Document everything
If your loved one tells you that something is wrong, or if you even suspect that they are being poorly treated or neglected, document everything. What happened, the date and time, who was involved, who you spoke with to address the issue and what their response was. Hopefully, no further action will need to be taken. But if you ever need to take legal action against a nursing home, a well-documented paper trail showing their continued failure to address problems can help enormously.
4 – If you see something obviously dangerous, report it immediately
If nursing home residents are being obviously neglected, report it immediately. The State will take steps to rectify the situation, before it escalates any further. To report patient abuse or neglect to the Ohio Attorney General, click here. To file a complaint to the Ohio Department of Health, call 1-800-342-0553.
Extraordinary circumstances – such as a worldwide pandemic – do not excuse neglect or mistreatment.
It is the duty of nursing home owners to ensure that their clinics are properly staffed at all times.
It is the duty of nursing home management to ensure that their staff are properly trained and able to meet the needs of their residents.
Extraordinary circumstances – such as a worldwide pandemic – do nothing to absolve them of this responsibility. It is understandable that care facilities are occasionally understaffed, but owners and management must make every reasonable effort to boost staff to resident ratios to a safe level. If they fail to meet their most basic obligations, they may be found legally liable for any injuries or deaths that occur as a result of their poor management.
If you see or hear of neglect, negligence or abuse in a nursing home or assisted living facility during the COVID-19 pandemic, do not accept that as an excuse. Neglect, negligence or abuse happen because of poor management. Any explanation other than that is an unacceptable.
Call (937) 222-2030 today to schedule a FREE video / Skype / Facetime consultation with one of Dayton’s top rated personal injury lawyers handling nursing home abuse, neglect and wrongful death cases.