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Behind Closed Doors: Are Nursing Home Lockdowns Enabling Abuse?

Nursing care nurse with a senior in wheelchair

With family members and state watchdogs not allowed to visit nursing homes, the strict lockdown measures allowed abuse to happen under the radar. Recent reports of injuries and deaths point to abuse occurring during the nursing home lockdowns.

Rapid Increase in Injuries and Deaths

There have been reports of elder abuse increasing during the COVID-19 pandemic. In nursing homes, several families have had their members experience rapid health deterioration during facility lockdowns. Residents who were healthy and mobile have experienced serious injuries within a short period after the nursing homes implemented lockdowns.

In one case, a family realized that something was amiss when they made a window visit. It was only after they requested that their loved one be transferred to a hospital that they learned she had suffered a hip fracture. Other injuries and signs of abuse that families of residents have reported their loved ones to experience during nursing home lockdowns include:

  • Facial fractures
  • Bruises
  • Open wounds
  • Broken teeth
  • Sudden behavior changes, such as not wanting to eat, drink, or get out of bed

Many residents also died prematurely a few weeks or months into the pandemic for non-COVID causes. Such deaths totaled more than 40,000 in 2020, representing 15% more extra deaths than what would be expected in nursing homes in a normal year.

Exacerbation of Existing Problems

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, nursing homes were typically underfunded, understaffed, and under budget. According to the Government Accountability Office, 82% of nursing homes had deficiencies in preventing and controlling infections before the pandemic. When the pandemic came into play, nursing homes had to apply infectious disease protocols. This deepened the chronic staffing shortage and lack of sufficient funds.

The stress that overwhelmed workers faced resulted in a lack of proper care for the residents. Therefore, the likelihood of abuse from staff increased because of frustration over the pressure placed on the nursing homes.

Lack of Accountability

Nursing home abuse lawyers find that abuse tends to occur in situations of isolation and reduced oversight. The strict lockdown measures allowed nursing homes to operate in environments of zero accountability.

Family members, who are an integral part of detecting and reporting abuse, could not get into nursing homes. Many states also barred state ombudsmen who usually investigate the institutions. In Illinois, there were even reports of nursing home complaints not being investigated for more than three months.

State watchdogs and relatives are like the ears and eyes of the residents. Being denied access took away those eyes and ears, significantly increasing the risk of abuse occurring and going unnoticed.

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