Nursing homes in Riverside County and throughout Southern California have been on high alert for COVID-19 infections among residents, given that the coronavirus causing this infection can spread rapidly in skilled nursing facilities and can cause severe infections among older adults. Yet many nursing homes continue to be ill-equipped when it comes to keeping residents safe and free of infection. Given that so many safety advocates have turned their attention to the spread of COVID-19 in California nursing homes, some facilities have been able to implement infection-control measures to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to make sure that residents are transported to hospitals as quickly as possible when they show signs of severe symptoms.
However, according to a recent article from NPR, nursing homes may be encouraging the spread of COVID-19 by hiring nursing home workers that travel from one facility to another. Indeed, according to the article, “staff who work in multiple nursing homes” may in fact be the “source of the spread of infections” in a number of nursing homes to date. When COVID-19 spreads as a result of staff members traveling from facility to facility, what safety requirements must skilled nursing homes implement? Can these facilities be held accountable for nursing home negligence if they do not take additional steps to prevent COVID-19 infections when they employ staff members who work shifts across multiple different nursing homes?
Recent Study Suggests Nursing Home Staff Members Could be Spreading COVID-19 Infections to Patients
Many California nursing home staff members work at more than one facility. Shortly after the COVID-19 emergency began in the U.S. in March 2020, many states (including California) prohibited outside visitors from entering nursing homes in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Yet despite the closure of these facilities to outside visitors, vulnerable seniors inside many of these facilities continued to contract COVID-19, and many have since died. Initially, researchers suspected that a majority of these infections were resulting from a particular nursing home’s failure to implement infection-control measures inside the facility, from requiring staff members to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) to testing staff members for COVID-19 to isolating residents who tested positive.
However, even facilities with high quality infection-control procedures saw spikes in COVID-19 cases. Researchers at UCLA and Yale decided to conduct a study to learn more about how these nursing home residents were becoming infected. They predicted that employees coming in and out of the facilities were responsible for spreading the virus, and they used location data to track the movements of nursing home employees.
Relying on data from about 30 million smartphones, the researchers tracked the “movements of people going into and out of nursing homes,” and they learned that “one source of the spread of infections is staff who work in multiple nursing homes.” Ultimately, as the NPR article suggests, nursing homes need to be aware of these risks and to take additional preventive measures, particularly given that California nursing home COVID-19 deaths account for a high percentage of all coronavirus nursing home deaths in the country. These facilities could be held accountable in a nursing home negligence claim if they do not take steps to prevent COVID-19 spread from employees working at multiple nursing homes.
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