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What Happens if Nursing Homes Close Due to the Pandemic?

Choose up of old woman clasping hands together in lap

A nursing home abuse lawyer in Georgia explains

Even before the pandemic hit in 2020, many nursing homes were struggling. Staffing shortages, rising costs, and a decline in occupancy led more than 550 facilities to close between June 2015 to June 2019.

The coronavirus spread rapidly in nursing homes throughout the country, leaving more than 186,000 residents and staff members dead. Now facing what experts call the industry’s “worst financial crisis in history,” a survey has found only 1 in 4 of the nation’s 15,600 nursing home facilities is confident it can survive in the coming months.

Which leads to the question, what would happen if that many nursing homes had to close?

Noting that about 1.2 million people live in nursing homes, gerontological nurse practitioner and assistant professor Kimberley Posey said that scenario would be “a nightmare.”

“I really don’t know where they would go,” she said.

Relocation can be complicated

Susan Reinhard, senior vice president of public policy at AARP, has seen what happens when nursing homes close. As deputy commissioner of New Jersey’s health and senior services department, she oversaw nursing home closures in the state.

The facilities are required by law to send a written notice to residents and families at least 30 days before closing. Family members are supposed to be involved in making decisions, but residents are sometimes relocated, and sometimes across state lines, without their input.

Reinhard said families have the option to remove loved ones from a facility. But for residents who don’t have family, the nursing home is responsible for relocation.

“It’s not a happy situation,” Reinhard said. “People don’t generally want to be relocated.”

The National Advisory Committee on Rural Health and Human Services notes that closures could be particularly harmful in rural areas, where there aren’t many options.

Many industry leaders and elder care experts worry that closures could result in more homelessness among older adults.

The consequences of mass closures

Home and community care could not completely replace nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, says Nancy Kusmaul, associate professor of social work at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

“The home care system is not sufficient to handle the onslaught of people they would need,” she said. “If we’re talking about hundreds of nursing homes closing, they just don’t have the capacity to ramp up.”

There are also fears among facility owners, nurses, and resident advocates that mass closures would put a greater burden on hospitals, force caregivers out of the workforce, and lead to increased abuse at remaining facilities.

Kusmaul pointed out that even if there are more closures, there are still going to be people who need nursing home-level care.

“As individuals we want the best, right care for our mother, father, uncle and aunt – but as a society we don’t always put value on what it would take to provide for everyone’s mother, father, uncle and aunt,” she said.

No matter what’s going on in the industry, we expect nursing homes to take care of our loved ones and protect them from abuse and neglect. Since 2004, the attorneys at Kurle Justus, LLC have been fighting for the rights of nursing home residents and making negligent nursing facilities answer for their actions.

If you suspect a loved one is being abused or neglected in a nursing home or assisted living facility, contact us to schedule a free consultation.

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