Death stalks the nursing homes

Seniors have feelings.  Many still feel invincible.  Some are blessed with intellectual and physical prowess.  Or, as one post octogenarian gloats:” I’m above ground and vertical.” They continue in their jobs, travel, go out to eat and to movies and theater.  Some widows and widowers feel the pangs of adolescence, as new love lifts their spirits and their steps.

Others do not age as gracefully.  Physical or mental decay and/or lack of family willing or capable of assisting, finds them living out their last years in assisted living and group nursing homes.  Their circumstances are as diverse as the lives from which they were uprooted.   Some senior living homes are akin to swanky country clubs and five-star hotels, with private rooms, fine dining, entertainment, and enrichment classes.  Others are cramped affairs, with up to four to a room and the highlight of each day being dinner. But, regardless the surroundings, the most crucial ingredient is the level of care provided for these weakest in the population.

Indisputably, the level of care provided is most affected by the resident’s level of familial involvement.  Daily visits and scrutiny produce better outcomes.   It is commonly referred to as creating “the extra 10%.” 

With the Covid-19 pandemic, hospitals, as well as senior/nursing homes of all varieties, were shut down to the outside.  Family members were forbidden to enter.  One cannot even imagine the anguish this engendered, to both patient and family alike.  Even worse was the fact that as the institutions became understaffed and overburdened, calls went unanswered, and communications in many instances were totally cut off.  One hoped their loved ones were cared for, but death came to many – abandoned and alone.

At the onset, nobody knew what was happening.  Nobody could possible fathom that state legislatures were passing special laws admitting Covid-19 patients to nursing homes, or that states were just wantonly doing so, or that the institutions, knowing the dangers of the vulnerable living in close quarters, would knowingly admit contagious, and dangerously sick patients.  But, admit them they did.  Some unknowingly, but many fully informed.  Worse, these practices also endangered staff, as many had scant protective gear or equipment to treat the disease when the patient’s health deteriorated.

In March, New York specifically passed laws allowing hospitals to transfer Covid-19 patients to nursing homes.  California and New Jersey, without any special law, did likewise.  The inherent danger and bone-headed folly of this practice is mind-numbing.  Hiding behind Hippa privacy laws, the numbers of those Covid-19 patients admitted -- and -- dead is not known.  Florida officials recently asked the state coroner’s office to stop releasing Covid-19 deaths, as its numbers were higher than the state’s official tally.  It is now estimated that between one-fifth and one-third of all Covid-19 deaths in the United States have occurred in senior group homes.

Due to his high-profile televised press conferences and out-sized personality, New York Governor Cuomo received thousands of ventilators, and three specially equipped customized hospitals – one a naval ship, the Comfort.  When queried why he didn’t use the Comfort, he stated it was because it was a federal property. 

This disregard for the elderly and their caretakers was more galling when juxtaposed, in some states, with a release of prisoners, to protect them from Covid-19 infection.  To-date, over 16,000 prisoners have been released before completing their sentences.  By mid-April, approximately 2,100 known prisoners were released in New York, almost 6,000 in California. While no one is advocating that prisoners’ lives don’t matter, there is something terrible wrong with this picture.

Photo credit: Wallpaper Flare

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