The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have ordered states to resume regular annual surveys of nursing homes and to once again investigate claims of abuse and neglect at these institutions. These investigations and surveys were temporarily put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic but as states have begun returning to normal, more emphasis is being placed once more on ordinary operations. Thus, all the tasks that had been previously put on hold by CMS are now set to resume.
The coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, is the greatest public health crisis to have faced the United States in over a century. While many states are still struggling to contain the rate of infection, it has at least abated in New York, where strict adherence to quarantine procedures have dramatically cut the number of COVID-19 cases over the past few months. This success has led to many agencies, both at the state and federal level, to begin rescinding emergency measures that were implemented when the crisis first started.
Among these emergency measures was an order from CMS that suspended regular inspections and investigations of nursing homes, forcing state agencies to focus solely on the issue of infection control. While this was necessary due to a lack of resources to combat the spread of the coronavirus, this meant that other issues that arose at nursing homes were not being addressed. What this means, however, is that abuse and neglect against nursing home residents were potentially ongoing for months, with claims only being investigated if it was determined that residents were in “immediate jeopardy.”
As of the most recent order, agencies are now permitted to investigate claims determined to place residents in “Non-Immediate Jeopardy Medium.” This essentially means they can now investigate potential regulatory violations even when they do not immediately endanger residents’ physical or emotional health. Such violations were overlooked during the height of the coronavirus crisis as a way of focusing resources on fighting the pandemic but enforcing actions against these violations was a standard part of regulatory enforcement prior to the outbreak.
With the return to relative normalcy, regular inspections can resume, and a backlog of claims that accumulated in the meantime can now be investigated. This will allow state agencies under CMS to address issues related to nursing home abuse and neglect, including poor hygiene standards (not related to infection control), understaffing, and allegations of physical or emotional abuse. It will also allow them to conduct surveys to find regulatory violations that are not immediately obvious.
However, just because a regulatory violation has been detected or a complaint against a nursing home has been lodged does not mean it will be possible to seek legal action against these institutions. In New York, as well as many other states, legislators passed protections for nursing homes that will make it more difficult to sue based on neglect or abuse residents suffered during the coronavirus crisis. If you or a loved one have suffered abuse or neglect during the coronavirus crisis, you should consult with an attorney experienced in handling nursing home abuse and neglect cases to discuss your potential legal options.
If you or a loved one are dealing with legal issues related to nursing home abuse or neglect, or you are dealing with any other issue related to elder law, you will need specialized legal advice. The attorneys at Hobson-Williams, P.C. are skilled in all aspects of elder law, and are dedicated to representing clients with diligence and compassion. To speak to an attorney or to schedule a consultation, call 866-825-1LAW.