Lifting The Curtain On The Horror Of Nursing Homes In The Pandemic
The Canadian army has documented horrific elder abuse and neglect in several nursing homes in the province of Ontario during the COVID-19 pandemic, raising questions about what has occurred in the largely unobserved, isolated nursing homes of the United States.
The Centers for Disease Control reports 8 out of 10 pandemic deaths in the U.S. have been in adults aged 65 and older.
The Canadian Armed Forces in April dispatched 1,675 troops to more than 30 hard hit nursing homes in Ontario and Quebec to provide humanitarian relief. Officials released an Army report this week documenting the shocking conditions found in five Ontario nursing homes. Here’s what they saw:
In one home, COVID-19 positive residents wandered freely among non-positive patients and staff wore the same protective equipment in COVID-19 positive and non-positive units.
- There was “a general culture of fear to use supplies because they cost money.”
- Expired medications had apparently been dispensed for several weeks.
- Rotten food and cockroach/fly infestations.
- Some patients didn’t get even three meals a day.
- Patients were left for hours in soiled pads and diapers.
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Low staffing ratios and untrained staff. In one home, there was only one registered nurse on duty for 200 residents.
At an emotional press conference, Ontario Premier Ford promised, “There's going to be justice. There's going to be accountability." Ford referred one COVID-19 death to the coroner’s office for investigation and, if warranted, prosecution for criminal “neglect.”
Ford said the government will conduct "extremely rigorous" inspections of the homes, as well as 13 others facing challenges managing COVID-19, and will do random spot checks across the province. Ford said he won't hesitate to pull operators' licenses or shut homes down if necessary.
U.S. Nursing Homes
It appears probable that horrific abuse occurred in long-term care facilities in the United States, particularly after the homes excluded outside visitors. Much of what occurred is shrouded in secrecy. Some states, like Texas and Arizona, have refused to break down the number of infections and deaths in individual facilities, instead issuing statewide data that leaves families and the public in the dark about which nursing homes are experiencing dangerous COVID-19 outbreaks.
From what is known, it seems clear that care facilities in two high-population states, New York and New Jersey, fared worst in the pandemic. Both states prohibited nursing homes from refusing to admit COVID-19 patients, potentially spreading the virus.
A tally by the New York Times found seven of the ten nursing homes with the highest number of known coronavirus cases were in New Jersey. The Paramus Veterans Memorial Home in Paramus, N.J., alone had 264 cases of coronavirus and 71 deaths.
The Times reported that while just 11% of COVID-19 infections in the US have occurred in nursing homes, one-third of COVID-19 deaths in the US have occurred in nursing homes.
In recent days, authorities in a handful of states have launched investigations of specific nursing homes where outbreaks occurred but there is no federal investigation underway.
President Donald Trump recently announced the formation of an independent commission to look at the response of nursing homes to the coronavirus. Trump said of nursing homes: “I guess you could call it a little bit of a weak spot, because things are happening at the nursing homes that we're not happy about.”
Laura Tamblyn Watts, president and CEO of CanAge, a Canadian seniors’ advocacy organization, told the Canadian public broadcast service the nursing home death toll in Canada was exacerbated by government cutbacks in public health funding and senior care. She said some nursing homes house four people to a room and have one bathroom for 20 residents.Watts said “smaller homelike environments are better for infection and where people want to live.”
Watts also cited “consistent cutting of staff” and the “question about profits.”
She called for the adoption of national quality standards and said nursing homes should be subject to surprise (not scheduled) inspections. She also cited a need for “staffing reform” that includes higher staffing-to-patient ratios and better pay and treatment of staff.
Watts touted Australia’s system of national nursing home regulation and national standards as a model. Moreover, she said Australian authorities have the power to suspend nursing homes licenses and impose fines.
America’s version of a senior advocacy organization, the AARP, the nation’s leading seller of Medi-gap health insurance, has not called for systemic change, instead offering coping advice for caregivers and seminars with “experts” like actress Susan Lucci.