In recent days, The New York Times has devoted several articles to the long-term care industry and its failure in the pandemic. (See “This Is Why Nursing Homes Failed So Badly,” “Nursing Home Patients Are Dying of Loneliness,” and “Push for Profits Left Nursing Homes Struggling to Provide Care.”) One writer opined that after COVID is over, the country will have to deal with the underlying design that led to this tragedy. However, we cannot wait until the pandemic is history. Too many more long-term care facility residents will die, especially if the vaccine rollout is not well-executed.
The impact of COVID has fallen disproportionately on individuals living in long-term care facilities. Nearly half of New Jersey’s deaths were residents of these facilities. Moreover, countless other facility residents suffered from isolation and loneliness that came from strict lockdowns. Individuals with dementia experienced accelerated cognitive decline, and others suffered from medical neglect due to understaffing. At the same time, there are heroic stories of staff and administration going above and beyond. Many facilities beat the odds and kept infections to remarkably low levels without the support they needed from the state and the federal government.
In a prior blog post, “Next Surge of COVID-19 Impact on New Jersey Long-Term Care Facilities,” I wrote about new bills aimed at improving long-term care facilities’ response to the coronavirus. The bills, which among other things, provide increased funding and require better staffing ratios and higher salaries for workers. These are important steps that must be taken now.
We are months away from full vaccination even in long-term care facilities, which will receive priority. Through a partnership between New Jersey, the Centers for Disease Control, and private pharmacies, residents and staff at 291 long-term care facilities already have received or are scheduled to receive vaccinations through the beginning of February 2021. However, there have already been issues with delays and fewer vaccine doses being received than anticipated. Reform of the long-term care system must occur in conjunction with quick and efficient vaccine rollout to congregate settings and care providers. Our political and industry leaders must keep their eye on the ball, and we must all keep up the pressure to ensure that our most vulnerable residents do not get left behind again.
If you have any questions about this post or any other elder care and special needs law matters, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. For other topics related to the coronavirus, visit our Coronavirus Thought Leadership Connection.