Home » Lifestyle » Not just COVID: Nursing home neglect deaths surge in shadows
Not just COVID: Nursing home neglect deaths surge in shadows
US investigating New Jersey veteran-run nursing homes amid coronavirus
The Department of Justice is investigating coronavirus deaths in veteran nursing homes in New Jersey. FOX Business’ Kristina Partsinevelos with more.
When COVID-19 tore through Donald Wallace’s nursing home, he was one of the lucky few to avoid infection.
Continue Reading Below
He died a horrible death anyway.
Hale and happy before the pandemic, the 75-year-old retired Alabama truck driver became so malnourished and dehydrated that he dropped to 98 pounds and looked to his son like he’d been in a concentration camp. Septic shock suggested an untreated urinary infection, E. coli in his body from his own feces hinted at poor hygiene, and aspiration pneumonia indicated Wallace, who needed help with meals, had likely choked on his food.
“He couldn’t even hold his head up straight because he had gotten so weak,” said his son, Kevin Amerson. “They stopped taking care of him. They abandoned him.”
BECAUSE OF CORONAVIRUS, MORE SENIORS WANT IN-HOME CARE: BUT WHERE ARE THE CAREGIVERS?
As more than 90,000 of the nation’s long-term care residents have died in a pandemic that has pushed staffs to the limit, advocates for the elderly say a tandem wave of death separate from the virus has quietly claimed tens of thousands more, often because overburdened workers haven’t been able to give them the care they need.
Nursing home watchdogs are being flooded with reports of residents kept in soiled diapers so long their skin peeled off, left with bedsores that cut to the bone, and allowed to wither away in starvation or thirst.
Beyond that, interviews with dozens of people across the country reveal swelling numbers of less clear-cut deaths that doctors believe have been fueled not by neglect but by a mental state plunged into despair by prolonged isolation ̶ listed on some death certificates as “failure to thrive.”
A nursing home expert who analyzed data from the country’s 15,000 facilities for The Associated Press estimates that for every two COVID-19 victims in long-term care, there is another who died prematurely of other causes. Those “excess deaths” beyond the normal rate of fatalities in nursing homes could total more than 40,000 since March.
These extra deaths are roughly 15% more than you’d expect at nursing homes already facing tens of thousands of deaths each month in a normal year.
WHO'S TO BLAME FOR CORONAVIRUS DEATHS IN NURSING HOMES?
“The healthcare system operates kind of on the edge, just on the margin, so that if there’s a crisis, we can’t cope,” said Stephen Kaye, a professor at the Institute on Health and Aging at the University of California, San Francisco, who conducted the analysis. “There are not enough people to look after the nursing home residents.”
Comparing mortality rates at homes struck by COVID-19 with ones that were spared, Kaye also found that the more the virus spread through a home, the greater the number of deaths recorded for other reasons. In homes where at least 3 in 10 residents had the virus, for example, the rate of death for reasons besides the virus was double what would be expected without a pandemic.
That suggests the care of those who didn’t contract the virus may have been impacted as healthcare workers were consumed attending to residents ill from COVID-19 or were left short-handed as the pandemic infected employees themselves.
Chronic understaffing at nursing homes has been one of the hallmarks of the pandemic, with a few homes even forced to evacuate because so many workers either tested positive or called in sick. In 20 states where virus cases are now surging, federal data shows nearly 1 in 4 nursing homes report staff shortages.
On New York’s Long Island, Dawn Best saw that firsthand. Before COVID-19 arrived at Gurwin Jewish Nursing Home, she was pleased with the care her 83-year-old mother Carolyn Best received. She enjoyed activities, from tai-chi classes to visits from a pony, and was doted on by staff.