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COVID-19 magnified Georgia nursing homes' troubles

doctor listens to senior patient's breathing, both wearing masks

The pandemic may be ending, but the problems it exposed won't just go away.

When COVID-19 arrived in Georgia last year, the first places to be hit hard were nursing homes. Infections surged among residents and staff, and too many families had to watch their loved ones battle the disease from afar.

The pandemic is finally under control, but in some ways, its effects in nursing homes were merely a symptom of an underlying problem. As 11 Alive reported, there were serious safety issues in the long-term care system before the coronavirus, and those safety issues won't just go away on their own now that the immediate danger has subsided. Indeed, without action, they may get worse.

Nursing homes were ill-prepared to handle infection control

There are several reasons COVID-19 spread so rapidly in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, some of which were unavoidable. Elderly people were simply more vulnerable to the disease, and stopping the spread of an infectious illness is always challenging in a congregate care setting. However, one key factor was absolutely preventable: understaffing.

“The underlying cause is the lack of staff. Georgia staffing levels are horrible, horrible, horrible, tragic on so many levels," said Brian Lee, director of Families for Better Care. Without adequate staffing, nursing homes were unable to effectively implement social distancing and contact tracing protocols, monitor residents for symptoms of the disease, and take appropriate steps to quarantine residents and care for them when they did become ill. Of course, when nursing home staff themselves became ill, the problems only got worse.

Unfortunately, the problems caused by understaffing go far beyond the inability to stop the spread of a single disease. In understaffed facilities, residents often are not bathed, changed, or turned in bed regularly, leading to pressure sores and infections that can become septic. They may not be properly monitored while eating and drinking, causing malnutrition or dehydration. Medication errors and other medical mistakes are common. Abuse can fester with poor security and poor vetting of employees. The physical space can fall into disrepair. These are serious problems that cause serious suffering among residents, and nursing homes need to be held accountable.

Residents and their families have legal rights

Under both federal and Georgia law, nursing homes are required to have enough staff to actually provide the services they are contracted to provide. Unfortunately, that's not always the case in practice. The pandemic exposed these problems to the general public, but nursing home abuse and neglect attorneys have known this for many years. When nursing homes cut corners on staffing to protect their bottom line, residents and their families suffer. Lives can be changed forever or cut short. The places we expect to care for our loved ones become just the opposite.

That's why it's so important for negligent nursing homes to be held accountable. If your loved one was abused or neglected in a Georgia nursing home, we would be honored to listen to your story and explain your legal options. Contact Kurle Justus, LLC today for a free, confidential consultation.

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