The Coronavirus outbreak was the all-consuming story of 2020, and nursing home residents were often at the center of it. Those Americans who were most susceptible to the disease were getting sick and dying at unprecedented rates. Before a vaccine was available, there was little that could be done to slow it down, other than the measures already being taken.
But what about the nursing home residents who didn’t catch the virus but lived among those who did? According to an Associated Press report from November, a significant percentage of non-Covid patients in nursing homes have actually fared worse during this time because of severe neglect. In fact, many have died preventable deaths due to worker shortages in nursing homes.
The AP report told numerous heartbreaking personal accounts, including the story of a 75-year-old Alabama man who had been “hale and happy” before Covid-19 entered his nursing home. He never caught the virus, but he nonetheless died from apparent malnutrition, dehydration and untreated infections. By the end of his life, he weighed just 98 pounds. The man’s son alleges that nursing home staff stopped caring for him and “abandoned him.”
This was not an isolated incident. One person interviewed by the AP estimated that for every two Covid deaths in a nursing home, a third resident would die prematurely from other causes – usually because they were not given proper care and treatment.
Even prior to the pandemic, many nursing homes in the U.S. were just barely meeting staffing needs. And with Covid-19 reducing staffing rates and increasing care demands, non-Covid residents have been left to fend for themselves, which many simply cannot do.
Widespread vaccination will be necessary before many nursing home patients can see their loved ones in person again. Therefore, it will be some time before we can address this injustice in earnest. But when the immediate emergency is over, there will be much needless suffering and death to answer for. Nursing home administrators should brace themselves for a potential storm of litigation, investigation and mandatory reforms.