A silent killer, neglect, is pervading nursing homes across America as facilities struggle to address the coronavirus pandemic, staffing shortages and other challenges.
While efforts have been made to protect the elderly and people with disabilities from COVID-19 – and governors like Andrew Cuomo of New York face continued criticism for their decisions to place coronavirus patients in with these vulnerable groups of people, less attention has been paid to the skyrocketing nursing home deaths to neglect and other causes.
But new reports are beginning to expose the problems inside nursing homes where many residents are in lockdown and their families are unable to visit them or check on their care.
Last week, the Associated Press described some of the horrific conditions that it discovered in its investigation: “Nursing home watchdogs are being flooded with reports of residents kept in soiled diapers so long their skin peeled off, left with bedsores that cut to the bone, and allowed to wither away in starvation or thirst.”
It noted that more than 90,000 people have died in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities during the pandemic so far, but nursing home deaths from other causes also increased “often because overburdened workers haven’t been able to give them the care they need.”
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Here’s more from the report:
A nursing home expert who analyzed data from the country’s 15,000 facilities for The Associated Press estimates that for every two COVID-19 victims in long-term care, there is another who died prematurely of other causes. Those “excess deaths” beyond the normal rate of fatalities in nursing homes could total more than 40,000 since March.
These extra deaths are roughly 15% more than you’d expect at nursing homes already facing tens of thousands of deaths each month in a normal year.
Similarly, in September, Politico linked a 20-percent increase in deaths to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease to the pandemic.
Writing at the Catholic Herald, Charlie Camosy, a professor at Fordham University, pointed to the reports as more evidence of our “throwaway culture” — a term Pope Francis often uses to discuss how society treats unborn babies, the elderly, people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups.
He wondered if the root of the problem stems from society not recognizing people with dementia “as fundamentally equal to other kinds of human beings.” Camosy also raised concerns about anti-life groups latching onto the horrific reports to promote other abuses, namely assisted suicide and euthanasia.
“It doesn’t take a genius to guess what the reactions of many people will be if they get sick, or get diagnosed with the early stages of dementia, and foresee a horrific life in an institution,” he wrote. “No one is more strongly opposed to physician-assisted killing than I am, but even I can see how someone might be drawn to support its legalization if they thought it would spare them or someone close to them this kind of fate.”
He urged pro-lifers to step up to this growing challenge, just as they have with mothers and babies threatened by the violence of abortion.
“The thing pro-life activists do best is be present to people. What a beautiful thing it would be if pro-lifers mobilized to be present to this throwaway population, just as we have mobilized to be present to vulnerable mothers and their prenatal children,” Camosy wrote.
Americans still do not know how many nursing home residents have died from the coronavirus either, especially in connection to the policies Cuomo and several other Democrat governors put in place during the initial coronavirus breakout in March.
Cuomo and four other Democrat governors ordered nursing homes to take coronavirus patients: New Jersey, California, Pennsylvania and Michigan. These five states have some of the highest nursing home death numbers, according to data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
In early June, AARP reported more than 43,000 nursing home residents and staff died from the virus, representing more than one third of all known deaths in the U.S. at the time.
“While dire, this figure is an undercount, experts warn, because not all states are publicly reporting data yet,” according to AARP. “In many states, more than half of coronavirus deaths are connected to long-term care facilities.”