Federal and state laws have been put into place to protect nursing home residents’ basic rights and ensure they are not abused or neglected in their living situation, including the right to be free from isolation, but the unprecedented impact of COVID-19 may alter the way those laws are interpreted with this focus.
Montana nursing home residents are struggling with the impacts from COVID-19 because they cannot spend time with family and friends, plus limitations are imposed on their freedoms as they move around in their protected communities. After restricted visitor access was put into effect in early March, one family member believes her almost 100-year-old mother died at St. John United in Billings because she lost her will to live while being isolated from family members. COVID-19 loneliness, uncertainty and fear can cause, or exacerbate health problems in this elder population, and the United States toll at nursing homes has been significant, with close to 97,000 residents and staff members testing positive for the virus and over 16,000 occurrences of death in both residents and staff members. Poor COVID-19 reporting has led some families to entertain legal action, as they did not have the opportunity to make alternate arrangements for loved ones to keep them safe from the residential spread.
Nursing homes must follow Federal Regulation 42 CFR sec. 483.25 (h) providing for a facility to ensure a resident’s environment remains as free of hazards as possible and that ample supervision is provided, along with adequate medical treatment upholding the current medical standards of care. Claims of abuse that can be reported include acts of negligence that cause, or exacerbate existing health conditions or place residents in danger. The lack of transparency may have put nursing home residents in danger once administration and staff became aware of the dangers associated with COVID-19
If unintentional neglect due to isolation during COVID-19 led to a wrongful death of a loved one, a family may be compensated if they can prove that negligence was involved. Elements that will determine the value in a case of nursing home abuse include economic damages to pay expenses, financial loss and funeral costs; and non-economic damages to compensate families for pain and suffering. In some cases, punitive damages may be imposed for intentional or careless behavior and to discourage others from similar action.
Wrongful death legal actions arise out of grave injury inflicted by the negligence or wrongful act of another. An experienced attorney can navigate the way the laws are interpreted for COVID-19 negative outcomes with possible compensation to Montana families.
Nursing Home Reform Act (NHRA) of 1987