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Nursing homes in the time of COVID-19

Placing a loved one in a nursing home or long term care facility has always been an intimidating process.  We know that our elderly family members are the most vulnerable and least able to speak for themselves, and we worry that they will not receive proper care if we are not there to protect them and speak on their behalf. Our worries for elderly family members residing in such facilities are compounded exponentially during the COVID-19 crisis.



What is COVID-19 and How is it spread?


We now know that the novel coronavirus infection known as COVID-19 has resulted in a pandemic and national emergency.  This infection has swept through our country, and has infected people in all walks of life and of all ages.  This includes infections in nursing homes and long term care facilities.  COVID-19 is spread from person to person by respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes.  When another person comes into contact with those droplets, particularly on their face or open wounds, they can become infected.  It can take up to 14 days for symptoms to develop, meaning that someone can be infected and spread the disease without feeling sick or showing signs of the infection.  Right now, there is no vaccine for COVID-19, and this virus is particularly deadly for the elderly and for residents in nursing homes.


Are there Restrictions for Visitors to Nursing Homes?


The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have issued guidance to nursing homes, long term care, assisted living and other facilities throughout the country, to respond to the COVID-19 threat to residents.  That guidance addresses infection control and prevention, and includes taking steps such as restricting or prohibiting visitors, especially where there is community spread as we have experienced in the Lehigh Valley and beyond. As a result, visitors are now not permitted in nursing home, long term care or other facilities in the Lehigh Valley.


What Information is Available About Coronavirus in Nursing Facilities?


There has been a lack of information as to which nursing home or other facilities are experiencing COVID-19 cases, and whether our loves ones are in such a facility and thus at increased risk. The Pennsylvania Department of Health has begun reporting the number of Coronavirus infections and deaths in nursing home facilities by County, on its website. This website does not, however, identify the specific nursing homes involved. According to the Department of Health, as of April 29, 2020, there have been 22 facilities with COVID-19 infections in Lehigh County, involving over 325 residents and 60 staff members, of whom 49 have died. In Northampton County, 12 facilities have seen COVID-19 infections, with over 450 positive residents, 95 positive employees and 49 deaths. COVID-19 Data for Pennsylvania


While this information is now being reported by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, it does not help families determine whether this infection is in a certain facility.  Due to complaints and requests for more transparency, we are starting to see news reports about the level of infection of both patients and staff in certain facilities.  This information has been provided about the county-owned facilities of Cedarbrook (in Lehigh County) and Gracedale (in Northampton County).  ManorCare has released information about the number of infected patients in its Lehigh Valley facilities as well.


What Do I Do When I am Having Difficulty Getting Information About My Loved One’s Condition?


Families are no longer able to visit and see how their loved ones are doing while residing in these facilities. Many of these residents are unable to speak or connect during a phone or video-call rather than an in-person visit. Some have reported difficulty getting a knowledgeable staff member on the phone to report on how the resident is doing, whether the loved one has been diagnosed with Coronavirus or not. While these are difficult times, the facility is responsible to keep the resident or their representatives informed of their condition. If you are unable to get adequate answers from the person who picks up the phone when you call, insist on speaking to the charge nurse, the nursing home attending physician, or the facility administrator if necessary. Persistence is important especially in these times. You can also file a complaint with the Pennsylvania Department of Health, and the information for doing so is at: Nursing Home Patients and Families. There is an online complaint form you can use, or you can call directly at: 1-800-254-5164.


Nursing Homes Must Meet their Residents’ Needs


COVID-19 is a serious condition affecting nursing homes and their residents, and we are in the midst of a national emergency.  Each nursing home facility has the obligation to make sure that even during this emergency, residents are getting the care they need.  The law requires that these facilities meet each of their residents’ needs, and now is the time when they may well have to go above and beyond to do so.  That includes making sure that they are fully staffed, even if it means taking extra steps to get and keep employees, and ensure that each patient, whether COVID-19 positive or not, receives necessary care to meet each of their needs and is provided a safe and healthy environment.


Contact Us If You Need Help!


At Cohen, Feeley, Altemose & Rambo, we have been representing victims of nursing home neglect and their families in personal injury and wrongful death actions for decades. If you need help, or would like to ask us a question, feel free to contact us at 610-625-2100 or get a free consultation.

Learn more about coronavirus (COVID-19) Legal Matters and Resources

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