Davis & Brusca, LLC – NJ Nursing Home Negligence Lawyers
Nothing – not even the COVID-19 pandemic – gives a nursing home the authority or the right to overlook or disregard its resident’s right to safe, dignified, and respectful living conditions in the nursing home. In fact, those very rights are guaranteed by statute – the New Jersey “Residents Rights Act” –which not only guarantees those rights but also empowers residents and/or their loved ones to sue for violations. Nursing homes must treat each resident with respect, ensure their personal dignity, and provide an environment which maintains or enhances quality of life and recognizes each resident’s individuality. Tragically, recent news reports show that the poor response of certain facilities to the Covid-19 outbreak is violating these important residents’ rights. Governor Phil Murphy recently stated, “New Jerseyans living in our long-term care facilities deserve to be cared for with respect, compassion, and dignity. We can and must do better.” We agree.
One example of a nursing home whose actions have recently attracted attention is the Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation Center, located in Andover, New Jersey. Last week, police were called to the facility on an anonymous tip regarding a body being kept within a shed. Upon arrival, the police discovered the facility had piled seventeen (17) bodies into the nursing home’s morgue, which had been designed to hold a maximum of four (4) bodies. While this is a horrifying fact in and of itself, think of the impact to the living residents at that facility. First, the bodies cold pose a threat to the rest of the nursing home. This is a novel coronavirus (a new strain of the coronavirus that had previously not been identified in humans). As such, can the facility say for certain whether that the virus cannot be contracted from these deceased persons? If not, the accumulation of dead bodies may pose a major risk not only to those healthcare workers who interact with the deceased, but every other person who interacts with those healthcare workers, in a cascading fashion. In short, the health and safety of the other patients within the nursing home are potentially being placed at risk. Second, does the right to “dignity” end with death? Shouldn’t the “dignity” shown to the person extend to their remains and, for that matter, the rights of the family to be informed and to ensure their loved ones’ remains are properly, respectfully, and promptly cared for after they have passed?
This point begs the question: What about communication? After all, one of the central complaints concerning nursing homes in the COVID-19 world centers on a lack of communication – mainly communication with their residents and families. Families want to speak to their loved ones but are repeatedly told they cannot. Why not? Nursing home residents have the right to communicate with anyone they chose, as well as the right to unaccompanied access to a telephone. Simply telling families they can’t do it is unacceptable and may well be a violation of State law. Similarly, we have heard reports that some family members have been denied the ability to have video chats, by Zoom, Facetime, or other similar services when they have asked questions about COVID-19. Why?
Another problem we’re hearing about is families who are actively involved in their loved ones’ care can’t get information. Worse yet, we’ve heard stories of some families being deliberately fed false or misleading information. Standing alone this is outrageous, but when one considers that nursing home residents have the statutory right is to participate in their own treatment and care decisions, and that this right should extend to their Power-of-attorney, cutting families out of the loop and denying them the right to accurate and timely reports of their loved one’s status impedes sound medical decisions and may well violate this important resident right.
Equally troubling is the fact that many families have been fed lies about whether their loved one’s facility has a Covid-19 outbreak. News reports indicate that some New Jersey nursing homes have actively hidden the existence of an outbreak from family. Again, how can a family make good medical decisions if they do not even know if the facility has the virus? One recently reported example related to this arises from the Elizabeth Nursing and Rehab Center in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Since the outbreak of Covid-19, the Elizabeth Nursing and Rehab Center has unfortunately lost 29 patients to the virus. Reports indicate that family members of the deceased have faced immense trouble even reaching the administrators of the facility, and when they did, they were not informed of the passing of their loved ones.
If you or your loved ones are in a nursing home facility where this is occurring, you can contact the New Jersey Department of Health, the New Jersey Ombudsman, as well as the owners, administrators and the director of nursing of the nursing home to demand that the home complies with your loved one’s residents rights.
The state has set up a web page where you can report make your report “https://covid19.nj.gov/forms/ltc”
Please understand that your family members have a right to unrestricted communication, the right to use the telephone, and the right to participate in their own treatment (which may involve the power-of-attorney). As a family member, don’t hesitate to call the nursing home to verify if your loved one is safe, what the facility is doing in these trying times to keep them safe, and making sure the facility knows you expect to be contacted if anything changes. It is also a good idea to keep documentation, including notes, so you have a record of when you called the facility, who you spoke with, what was said, and the results of those calls (or attempted calls).
Should you find getting in contact with the nursing home to be impossible, please know you may call the New Jersey Department of Health or the New Jersey Long-Term Care Ombudsman.
As a final note, it is encouraging to see that the State is looking into these issues, including reports of the lack of testing and proper treatment for folks in nursing homes. New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal in a tweet on Thursday stated that he, like Governor Murphy is “deeply concerned with the high number of deaths in NJ’s nursing homes, especially those with below-average safety records” and is, therefore, opening a statewide investigation.
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