Liability of Nursing Homes in Las Vegas, Nevada and Beyond for COVID-19
It might not come as a surprise that in the United States, where the first coronavirus outbreak occurred in Washington nursing home, there is an overwhelming and dangerous link between coronavirus and our nursing homes.
So far, there have been more than 60,000 cases of COVID-19 linked to nursing home outbreaks, resulting in more than 28,000 deaths in just three short months. It’s an immense amount of human loss and suffering, and unfortunately, the numbers will only go higher as reporting becomes more accurate and the pandemic continues.
But in the middle of this tragedy there is a group that is fighting to protect itself from liability: the nursing homes themselves.
Las Vegas Nursing Home Industry and Coronavirus Protections
The nursing home is a powerful industry, spanning more than 15,000 facilities across the United States. Currently, they are home to more than 2 million Americans, many of them elderly and at higher risk of coronavirus as a result.
That number only includes state-licensed skilled nursing facilities, and does not include other kinds of assisted care facilities where coronavirus can also run rampant.
However, independent reports suggest that already more than 40% of all COVID-19 deaths in the United States are linked to nursing homes alone, which means that nursing home residents are dying at the rate of a few hundred each day during the crisis.
Usually, nursing homes are under a legal obligation to provide adequate care and take necessary steps to prevent the spread of infectious disease. For example, caregivers should take care to wash their hands, disinfect equipment, and wear the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) when visiting patients. Any patient who contracts an infectious disease would be quarantined to prevent further spread and a possible outbreak in the confines of the facility, where the population is already at high risk.
- However, during the coronavirus pandemic, some states have passed laws to protect nursing homes, as well as other businesses and medical facilities, from any liability during the COVID-19 crisis. This is because the nursing home industry maintains lobbyist groups that can push for legislation that can confer them certain benefits and protections under the law. This can occur at the federal level in Washington DC or at the state level, including here in Nevada.
What Happens If Nursing Homes Neglect Coronavirus Standards?
At the moment, more than 20 states have passed legislation exempting nursing homes from liability in cases where patients under their care have contracted coronavirus, including hard-hit states New York and Michigan. This has been devastating for many families and loved ones who have had to shoulder the costs of hospitalization, extended medical care, and the emotional suffering in the midst of this crisis.
In many ways, nursing home abuse and negligence has already been rampant. For example, in our home state of Nevada, over 80% of nursing homes have received citations for violating standards for preventing the transmission of disease, and a third are considered to be below or far below average according to Medicare.
Although nursing homes require certification to operate, many caregivers are not given adequate training or are poorly qualified to provide care to their patients. Physical, emotional, and psychological abuse is not uncommon in nursing homes, even to the point of financial manipulation, extortion, and violence. It’s a horrifying situation but unfortunately, neglect and abuse in nursing homes can go on for years if the resident is too intimidated or otherwise unable to speak out, or if relatives don’t have the opportunity to visit and observe their loved one’s conditions for themselves.
The coronavirus pandemic has made these situations of abuse even worse. Where friends and family members once visited their loved ones at these facilities freely (and thus were more likely to spot abuse and misconduct on the part of the staff), social distancing measures now require many residents to be isolated from family in the outside world.
Caregivers may become less conscientious about changing safety equipment and maintaining standards without these regular visitors, and with a disease as contagious as COVID-19, it can take just one slip-up from a single caregiver to start a chain reaction. The virus can spread from a single case through the entire facility in just a matter of weeks, as was observed in some facilities here in Las Vegas.
In these cases where the nursing home staff are clearly at fault or at the very least negligent — after all, these tasks are covered by standard operating procedures and are mandated by government standard — the victims and their loved ones would usually be able to claim damages due to negligent care. This is true even in the event of wrongful death cases, where the victim’s dependents can still file for damages on their behalf. But with the coronavirus exemptions for nursing homes in certain states, victims are left high and dry with no legal recourse unless their respective state governments overturn or override these exemptions.
Can Victims in Nevada Nursing Homes Still File a Claim?
Luckily, Nevada is not one of the 20+ states that has passed exemptions for nursing homes. That’s good news for the hundreds of families who have had their loved ones contract coronavirus in the nursing home environment, including a few dozen who have unfortunately lost their loved ones to COVID-19. In certain facilities in Nevada, upwards of 70-80% of patients have contracted coronavirus, and the government has designed 4 nursing homes in the state as being “at high risk” of coronavirus transmissions. More work needs to be done to secure the safety and well-being of our elderly loved ones, but the fact that these nursing homes are not legally immune means that they will continue to be held to the same standards of care as expected before the coronavirus outbreak.
It is unclear whether or not an exemption will be passed for these nursing homes in Nevada eventually, so if you suspect that a loved one has contracted coronavirus from their time in a nursing home facility, seek legal counsel immediately. A claim can be filed even without an outstanding contract with the nursing home, as long as it can be proven that the caregivers were negligent in their care of the patient. Consult to an experienced nursing home attorney before speaking to anyone about the COVID-19 case.