If my loved one becomes sick with Coronavirus in a nursing home, is the nursing home liable?

A variety of factors make nursing homes especially at risk for the spread of infections like the Coronavirus. Older residents and those with chronic medical conditions often have weakened immune systems. Many facilities often have insufficient infection prevention practices, partly because visitors are constantly coming and going, and facilities are often poorly staffed especially if staff potentially contract an infection and call out sick. This all allows germs to spread. On top of that, residents who live in close proximity to each other move back and forth to hospitals when they become acutely ill, making them potential carriers of infection.

We have seen just how dangerous Coronavirus in nursing homes can be in the State of Washington where some of the first cases of the disease were noted in the United States. To date more than 18 deaths have occurred at one nursing home in the past several weeks as the virus spread like wildfire.

There is no easy answer as to whether a nursing home is liable if a resident contracts COVID 19.

When would a nursing home be liable for the wrongful death of my loved one?

Nursing homes, long-term care facilities, assisted living facilities, and group homes are all similarly situated in these circumstances. Each has a duty to provide patients with a safe and clean environment and proper medical care.

Nursing homes must maintain:

  • Infection prevention policies
  • Infection control policies
  • Train employees regarding these policies
  • Oversee and supervise adherence to these policies
  • Properly and timely assess residents for symptoms of infection
  • Promptly report any concerning symptoms to a doctor
  • Promptly provide medical treatment which may include transferring to a hospital
  • Promptly quarantine or isolate potentially contagious residents.

This holds true all the time – but particularly during a pandemic.  When it can be shown that a facility breached one of these duties or deviated from the generally accepted practices and a resident is seriously injured, or worse, dies because of such inaction, a family may have a claim for wrongful death.

What should I do to protect my loved one from Coronavirus who is in a nursing home now?

It is certainly a unique and unprecedented time that we are all adapting to and which is changing daily. The New York State Department of Health, Bureau of Healthcare Associated Infections issued a Health Advisory on March 13, 2020 restricting visitors to nursing homes and adult care facilities. The advisory also provided other requirements for protective measures for patients and health care professionals, as well as guidance on providing notice after identification of an infection. An exception exists for family visitors of residents in imminent end-of-life situations.

While it may be difficult to be restricted from visiting your loved one at this time, it is important to understand that this is for their own protection and the facility community as a whole. While a visitor may not be as severely affected by the Coronavirus, he or she may unknowingly carry the virus into the nursing home which could cause a disastrous result. To the extent that your loved one can communicate via telephone or even FaceTime, stay in regular contact with them.

Reinforce the importance of proper hand hygiene, social distancing, and symptoms to observe for and report to a staff member. Support your loved one by teaching them how to be their own health advocate. Coach your loved one to request that staff assist him or her in washing their hands with soap and water at a minimum prior to all meals. Discuss the importance of maintaining 6 feet of distance from peers and avoiding communal activities and social events. Review symptoms to report immediately to a staff member including a dry cough, feeling feverish, or shortness of breath. Regular reinforcement of safety information with those who have memory impairments can be helpful.