Nursing home negligence is a serious concern in the United States, with neglect ranking as one of the most common, yet most under-reported forms of elder abuse among people in long-term care facilities.

Distinctive from intentional or malicious abuse, negligence is the failure to adequately provide for the needs of residents. Bedsores, poor hygiene, and numerous physical ailments are hallmark signs of neglect.

A large percentage of virus deaths occurs in nursing homes

With COVID-19 posing a great risk to older people, it’s also begun disproportionately impacting people in nursing homes. In fact, it’s estimated that around 10,000 COVID-19 deaths in the US have occurred in long-term care facilities.

As pandemic deaths rise among these residents, nursing homes have begun asking for immunity from lawsuits over COVID-19 deaths.

That opens a can of worms for people whose loved ones have become a victim of the virus, since it raises questions about whether negligence is at play in the high infection rate.

A case for COVID-19 exposure as a form of negligence

As the current pandemic has reached nearly every corner of the globe, healthcare professionals and researchers have begun better understanding how COVID-19 spreads. It’s become clear that preventing infection requires strict social distancing of at least 6-10 feet, frequent handwashing and disinfection of surfaces, and wearing a mask to avoid transmitting airborne virus particles. These protocols must be rigorously implemented in in-patient or residential healthcare community settings, where people are at higher risk, yet often in close quarters.

State governments began implementing orders to help slow the rates of infection, yet nursing homes quickly became hotbeds, despite many facilities quickly implementing emergency no-visitation policies. However, staff were getting infected themselves, and without access to adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), it made it more difficult to contain the spread.

Access to PPE is an ongoing struggle in most healthcare settings. However, facilities experiencing high numbers of outbreaks were cited once they were found in inspections to have failed to execute a proper emergency plan for controlling infection, which suggests they may have been negligent in treating this virus as a real, immediate threat.

Considering the magnitude and consequences of this sort of failure to act, it’s possible that cases of nursing home negligence might be a legal option for survivors and family of loved ones. Holding nursing homes accountable for their actions is a key part of preventing negligence from becoming more widespread.