Call for Change and Accountability from Nursing Homes, Rehabilitation Facilities and Assisted Living Centers in the Wake of COVID-19 Pandemic

Doubtlessly, the coronavirus pandemic has presented an unprecedented situation for healthcare professionals and facilities to cope with. However, certain trends have emerged that suggest some nursing home and rehabilitation facilities were less prepared and responded less effectively than others. While some facilities promptly took action and communicated the situation to local authorities and minimized resident deaths, other facilities were less transparent and sadly, recorded double-digit deaths as a result. Deaths—that with a little bit more transparency and quicker action might have been avoided.

For example, in Elizabeth, New Jersey, one nursing home alone reported about two-dozen deaths since the onset of the pandemic. The mayor of the city asked the state attorney general to investigate that facility and others that recorded a staggering number of cases and deaths related to the coronavirus. The mayor was quoted by one news outlet as saying “It’s terrible. They’re not answering calls. They’re not answerable to anyone […] When the owners choose to ignore the process, then someone must hold them accountable.”[1] State officials later confirmed that they were investigating the handling of the crisis at several New Jersey facilities.

Other nursing home and rehabilitation facilities across New York and New Jersey also reported staggering a mounts of coronavirus cases and unfortunately, deaths. The Cobble Hill Health Center in Brooklyn even lead the state with a staggering fifty-five reported coronavirus deaths among its residence. Kings Harbor Multicare Center in The Bronx wasn’t far behind with forty-five. Sadly, the list goes on and on.

Prompt action however, may have prevented many of these deaths. Consider for example, the measures taken at a nursing facility in Woodbridge, New Jersey where, after eleven residents tested positive for the coronavirus, the entire facility was closed and all patients were presumed positive and transferred to facilities that were better equipped to treat the residents. In that case, only one death from coronavirus was reported.

Nursing home and rehabilitation center managers and owners owe it to their residents to communicate transparently and promptly with government officials regarding the conditions within their facilities. Family members of those who died or were hospitalized as a result of coronavirus in these facilities must demand answers from the ownership and management. Facilities’ fear of bad press cannot come before the wellbeing of the residents whom they are charged with protecting.

What actions did these facilities take to prevent the spread of the coronavirus? What plans did they have in place? Did they communicate transparently with government officials? As the mayor in Elizabeth said, there must be accountability. By holding those responsible accountable, we ensure that similar tragedies don’t occur in the future and hopefully drive change in the way emergency situations are handled, thereby improving the quality of care the most vulnerable among us receive. If there can be a silver lining to such an awful pandemic, I hope that that will be it.

You can read the published listing of New York State nursing facility deaths here.

[1] Mayor Seeks State Investigation (April 8, 2020).