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PA Dept of Health Faces Suit for Pausing Inspection Efforts

The novel coronavirus has shed light on several weaknesses within our healthcare system, including in residential care facilities.  COVID-19 has hit nursing homes hard throughout the country, in part due to their poor responses: The first major outbreak took place in a Seattle-area facility that is now facing major fines for failing to use proper infection control procedures.  Populated by elderly individuals with pre-existing conditions, nursing homes are already a prime location for outbreaks; when management does not follow safety standards—an all-too-common occurrence—waves of illness are all but guaranteed.

We’re filing a class-action lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Department of Health (PA DOH) for its failure to provide oversight of long-term care facilities during this time.  Though restricting movement to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus is important, the state’s decision to halt virtually all inspections of nursing homes has likely increased the risks for their residents.  An initial lack of data obscured the scope of the problem, but people are now asking how many lives could have been saved if the PA DOH had made a different decision. 

COVID-19 Has Gained a Foothold in Pennsylvania Nursing Homes

As of May 1, 2020, the PA DOH released updated statistics on the novel coronavirus’s spread.  Infections had been reported in 474 of the state’s 697 nursing homes, causing nearly 8,500 patients to become ill along with more than 1,000 among staff.  A total of 1,560 deaths, or 66% of the state’s total COVID-19 fatalities, have occurred in nursing homes.  Due to a widespread lack of testing, no one can say whether infection rates among these populations have flattened or are continuing to increase.  However, with 88,000 nursing home residents in the state of Pennsylvania, this information is essential to many families seeking news of their loved ones’ health.

Why We’re Suing the Pennsylvania Department of Health

Since the COVID-19 outbreak began, the PA DOH has implemented a policy of making inspections only upon reports of hazards that place residents in immediate jeopardy.  However, COVID-19 is the largest danger to nursing home residents by far and places all residents in immediate jeopardy for infection.  Evidence shows failure to comply with infection control standards can increase the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks.  Therefore, the PA DOH should have increased enforcement measures.  Instead, they stopped them almost entirely. 

Our suit looks at the Brighton Rehabilitation and Wellness Center, home to one of the first outbreaks in the state.  Within the past three years, this facility has been cited 3 times by inspectors for failing to comply with infection control measures.  Its repeated shortcomings led state inspectors to grade the facility as “below average” when it came to disease control and assess fines of over $20,000 over the past 2 years.  It has even been listed as one of the worst nursing homes in the country by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

Despite these clear warning signs, no inspections were made by the PA DOH despite numerous complaints that were made since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Given past safety records, anyone could have guessed the novel coronavirus might be a danger to its patients.  That quickly became the case: In the first week of April, so many people had already fallen ill that the management made the decision to treat all patients and staff as if they were infected.  For loved ones whose family members have become ill or succumbed to COVID-19, the failure to monitor Brighton and other facilities in Pennsylvania is a disturbing decision.

Do You Have Complaints About Nursing Home Care During the Pandemic?

For those of us with loved ones in nursing homes, the novel coronavirus has added a new dimension to our worries.  State data clearly demonstrated the increased hazard inside our nursing homes.  The pandemic was perhaps the worst time for our government to relax inspections.  We believe the PA DOH’s actions to be discriminatory against the nursing home population and are prepared to fight for them in court.

If you have a loved one in a nursing home who became ill or passed away due to the novel coronavirus, please reach out to our team.  We want to discuss your situation personally with you and let you know how we can help.

Reach out to us 24/7 if you’d like to schedule a consultation: You can send us a message or call (844) 383-0565.  During the COVID-19 shutdowns, we are offering remote services.

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