According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, residents at a top-rated, state-run nursing home for military veterans and their spouses in Chester County have been seriously impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Over a five day period in late April, the death toll nearly tripled. According to the Chester County coroner, 26 residents who tested positive for the coronavirus or were presumed infected have died as of April 24.
Overall, residents at the Southeastern Veterans’ Complex (SEVC) in East Vincent Township have been happy with their care. Loved ones have positively reviewed the facility, which currently has a waiting list. Now, however, it seems the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA) that runs the facility may have concealed the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak at the facility.
Coronavirus Cases in SEVC and a Lack of Communication
On March 12, the state cut off all visitation to the six veterans nursing homes run by the DMVA—including SEVC. As the weeks passed, the SEVC seemed to become one of the worst COVID-29 clusters in the Philadelphia area. In addition to resident infections, a number of staff and key personnel also fell ill.
Even with COVID-19 incidents in March, some residents and their family members weren’t aware of what was going on inside until April. Fran McDermott, whose 91-year-old mother has been at the facility for four years, was told the facility could not tell her how many COVID-19 cases they had, or if there were any cases on her mother’s floor. Prior to the pandemic, McDermott said staff used to call her just to inform her they were giving her mother Tylenol.
On April 4, families of residents received a letter alerting them that one or more residents had developed COVID-19. When families contacted the facility for more information, however, they were told they were not allowed to discuss any cases. The Philadelphia Inquirer published a report on April 17, revealing 10 residents had died from the virus.
Pennsylvania’s Response to COVID-19 in Nursing Homes
As one of the states with the oldest population in the country, approximately 126,000 people live in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities across the state. Family members, unable to visit their loved ones amid the outbreak, and the public seem to be kept in the dark regarding their loved one’s health and what’s going on inside facilities.
Even state officials are having a difficult time finding out information. According to state Senator Katie Muth, whose district covers part of Chester County, she is currently unable to figure out what’s happening inside SEVC. She hopes, however, that the nursing home gets better access to COVID-19 testing and adopts a more aggressive approach to contact tracing.
While some states, like New Jersey and New York, are publicizing the names of nursing homes with positive COVID-19 cases and the number of positive cases and deaths, Pennsylvania is not currently doing so. Many public health officials in the state, including Philadelphia’s health commissioner Thomas Farley, believe allowing public disclosures is a violation of privacy and could make facilities less likely to cooperate with government efforts to control pandemics.
After SEVC received pressure from reporters about communication complaints, some family members were able to learn more about their loved one’s conditions. Others, however, seem to be remaining in the dark.
Recently, the federal government issued new rules that nursing homes are required to inform residents and their family members when there are cases of COVID-19 in a facility. The rules have not gone into effect yet, but according to the administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, “Now more than ever, nursing home residents and their family members have a right to know what’s going on in these facilities.”
In addition to a push for transparency, some health officials believe a single reporting database would be useful. Nursing home data could be sent to state and federal departments, along with the public. This way, the most at-risk locations could be identified in regards to the need for personal protective equipment, testing, and emergency funding.
When it comes to the coronavirus and the state’s response with the pandemic in nursing homes, there are a number of questions regarding what could have been done differently and if lives could have been saved. If you have question above your loved one’s rights or are worried about their safety in their nursing home, contact Shrager, Sachs, & Blanco. We can look into the situation and determine if negligence occurred and if legal action is a valid option for your loved one and family.