Overcoming Patient Backlash in Nursing Homes Amid COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic has forced communities around the world to dramatically alter everyday practices. Protective measures like self-quarantine orders, social distancing, and mask-wearing mandates have been implemented in cities throughout the United States, directly impacting the lives of citizens from all walks of life. The healthcare industry has not been immune to these restrictions; nursing homes and assisted living facilities in particular have adopted similar safety restrictions. Unfortunately, this has resulted in nursing home backlash as residents and staff members have balked at the nature of COVID-19 restrictions. As critical healthcare facilities for at-risk individuals, how are nursing homes dealing with the backlash?  In this guide, we will explore solutions designed to preserve resident rights while protecting them from the health risks associated with COVID-19. 

Nursing Home Backlash: Anger and Confusion Aimed at Safety Restrictions

In the United States, some of the first deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic took place in nursing homes. One long-term care facility experienced 37 resident deaths alone. By April 2020, over 450 nursing home residents across the country had succumbed to the viral disease. In a New York Times article published in July 2020, investigators stated that 42% of all U.S. coronavirus deaths occurred in nursing homes. At the time of publication, 57,000 residents and staff members of facilities died, and more than 300,000 cases of infection were reported.

Facilities scrambled to find solutions for protecting residents and staff members from the spread of infection. These facilities implemented strict visitor limitations, reduced services, aggressive disinfection protocols, and isolation of infected or severely at-risk patients. While this began to control the spread, facility managers were not prepared for nursing home backlash as residents, staff, and healthcare advocates began to question these restrictions. Advocates are worried that newly-implemented policies are actually harming those residents they were designed to protect. Several lawsuits have been filed by residents and their family members, arguing that individual rights are being compromised. In some cases, residents have acted out against staff members, and have even attempted suicide due to the perceived isolation necessary for controlling disease spread.

Addressing Nursing Home Backlash with Commonsense Policies

Nursing homes and long-term care facilities understand that certain restrictions are needed to protect at-risk residents from contracting COVID-19. These restrictions have included restricting the movements of residents and forbidding visitors. Sometimes, these restrictions have gone too far, particularly in the case of visitation. Several nursing homes forbade visitation for even essential personnel and family, such as at the end of life. To counter nursing home backlash in these cases, forward-thinking facilities adopted careful pre-screening of visitors and have limited visitation areas. This has allowed family members to check on their loved ones or to say goodbye at the end of life.

To help residents overcome feelings of fear and isolation, counseling and mental health services have been brought in. Nursing home residents fare better when they are mentally engaged, and in the wake of COVID-19 isolation restrictions, engagement has not always been possible to maintain. Pre-screened counselors are able to come in, speak with residents, and help them understand what is going on. 

Many nursing homes were directed to create COVID-19 wings or isolation areas to keep infected residents from passing the virus to others. These residents are experiencing a disconnect from their normal routines, which often results in backlash. To help these residents overcome the drawbacks associated with being sequestered in specialized isolation areas, more attention needs to be paid to their care. Caregivers and support staff should conduct more frequent checks and take the time to speak with isolated residents if possible. Caregivers and facility managers also need to be aware of the trauma involved with being moved, and should minimize trauma by helping residents understand why it is necessary to isolate them. 

Finally, nursing homes must adopt greater transparency in reporting the number of cases within their facilities. When reporting, it is critical to prevent personally-identifying details from becoming released, thereby reducing the liabilities associated with the loss of sensitive information. While nursing home insurance is designed to protect from a wide range of risk exposures and liabilities, nursing home backlash and legal claims can quickly overwhelm even the most robust coverages. Facility managers and owners must carefully balance restrictions against the rights and needs of patients. By doing so, they can continue to control disease spread while allowing residents to maintain their dignity. 

About Caitlin Morgan

Caitlin Morgan specializes in insuring assisted living facilities and nursing homes and can assist you in providing insurance and risk management services for this niche market. Give us a call to learn more about our programs at 877.226.1027.