Florida Nursing Home Negligence and the COVID-19 Death Toll
According to the COVID Tracking Project, less than 1% of the U.S. population lives in long-term care facilities, yet this small population accounts for 42% of all COVID-19 deaths. As of mid-September, an astounding 455,536 long-term care patients in the U.S. had suffered from COVID-19 and 78,880 had died.
During the best of times, thousands of nursing home patients die from infection, neglect and abuse each year. During the worst of times, like now, most nursing homes do not have the staff, equipment, or structure to prevent the catastrophic number of deaths from continuing to grow.
Nursing home administrators remind the public that the population they serve (the elderly people who have underlying medical conditions) is very vulnerable to the coronavirus disease and that it spreads more readily in a closed environment where staff go from room to room. However, in addition to these inherent risk factors, problems specific to nursing homes, such as negligent oversight, lack of trained staff, and lack of safety equipment, have also given rise to the overwhelming number of deaths at these facilities.
The grief of those who have suddenly lost their loved ones without being able to be with them is compounded by their unanswered questions: Why did the virus continue to spread unabated after its dangers were well known? Did the nursing home do everything it could to prevent death? Was the nursing home administration or staff negligent in their care? Can they be held liable for negligence?
Why Has COVID-19 Continued Spreading in Florida Nursing Homes?
Most people understand that nursing home patients are vulnerable to the serious effects of COVID-19, but vulnerability itself does not explain why the disease continues to spread rampantly among these patients. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Florida Department of Health have issued guidelines for nursing homes on testing, infection control, environmental cleaning, staffing, visitation, admission, readmission and outreach to residents and families. By putting these recommended safety precautions in place, nursing homes should have been able to get control over the spread of the virus.
Unfortunately, that’s not what has happened. Safety precautions have not been fully implemented at many Florida nursing homes. Corporations, which now own around 70% of all U.S, nursing homes, have tried to increase profits by cutting expenses. Their focus on the bottom line has meant that many facilities are understaffed and under-resourced. Their managers often lack the skills to implement and maintain good patient care and safety procedures, and their employees are often minimally trained and poorly paid. In fact, a 2019 GAO report found that around 50% of all nursing homes regularly violate infection-control standards.
Sadly, these issues have been amplified during the current health crisis. Tests for the virus and personal protective equipment (PPE) have been in short supply in nursing homes. Some employees actually wear the same PPE to handle both COVID and non-COVID patients, thereby providing many opportunities for the virus to spread through the facility. Worse yet, some nursing homes have waited until residents are sick with COVID-19 before isolating them, even though they had known contact with people who had been infected. In addition, nursing home staff often have other jobs and home environments that put them at high risk for contracting and spreading the virus.
What’s even worse for many families is the lack of contact with their loved ones and lack of information from nursing homes. They struggle to stay in touch with their family member and find out how they are feeling and how they are being cared for. Many are not being told when their family member has Covid-19 symptoms and only find out about their loved one’s infection and demise after they have died.
Are Florida Nursing Homes Being Negligent?
By mid-September, 5,130 nursing home residents in Florida had died due to COVID-19. Were some of those deaths preventable? Most likely, yes. That doesn’t mean, however, that all nursing homes where residents have died due to COVID-19 can be held legally responsible for causing the death.
To bring a successful negligence claim against a Florida nursing home, you cannot rely on the fact that your loved one died from COVID-19 while living there. You must prove that negligence at the nursing home caused the death. That is, in order to hold a nursing home liable under Florida law, you must be able to show that the negligent or dangerous actions of the nursing home administrator and/or staff led to your loved one’s contracting the deadly virus.
That means, you’d need to know:
- What the nursing home knew about the spread of the virus in the facility
- When they knew patients had been exposed or had contracted the disease
- The steps they took to protect patients
- Precautions they should have taken but failed to implement.
If a nursing home failed to isolate patients who contracted COVID-19, failed to use PPE appropriately, failed to take recommended safety precautions, or was negligent in its care for patients in other ways, then you may be able to hold the nursing home liable for a loved one’s illness or death.
Experienced Florida Nursing Home Negligence Attorneys Want to Help
The experienced Orlando nursing home neglect attorneys of Warner & Warner can answer your questions about nursing home negligence. We have handled hundreds of nursing home cases in Florida and California and know how to successfully challenge the huge companies that own and control nursing homes.
If a family member has been injured due to negligence at a nursing home, please get the legal help you need to hold the negligent parties accountable by calling Warner & Warner at 321.972.1889 or submitting the “Do I Have a Case?” form on our website.
The COVID Tracking Project. (2020, Sept. 17). The Long-Term Care COVID Tracker.
The New York Times Editorial Board. (2020, Sept. 5). Hom many of these 68,000 deaths could have been avoided? The New York Times.
U.S. Government Accountability Office. Nursing homes: Better oversight needed to protect residents from abuse. Statement for the Record to the Committee on Ways and Means, House of Representatives. (2019, Nov. 4).