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By Marcel Gemme

Image via Pixabay

May 5, 2020 (San Diego) - Nursing homes and other senior living facilities have been some of the hardest-hit communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.  As countless news stories emerge about outbreaks at nursing homes, the best guess that anyone has so far as to the total number of coronavirus deaths from nursing homes is 10,000.  

At this point, we've all seen the headlines.  The first big story came out of Washington, from a facility in Kirkland where 37 people have died.  Then, a nursing home in New Jersey had 70 residents die from the novel coronavirus, which had to resort to using one of their rooms as a morgue.  Another facility in California has seen over 100 residents and staff become infected, with 12 deaths so far.  Long-term care facilities have become a hotbed for the COVID-19 outbreak.  


But why is this happening?

The answer lies in the population the nursing homes serve.  Seniors with underlying medical conditions are the highest risk group when it comes to COVID-19, but they are also the exclusive residents of nursing homes.


That means the highest risk population are all assembled in the same places.  Worse yet, coronavirus thrives off proximity between hosts, which is why social distancing measures are effective. Nursing homes are the virtual antithesis of social distancing. 

So, we have the highest risk population living in possibly the worst type of environment for this specific virus. 


The impact has been devastating and led many states to grant immunity to various healthcare systems, most recently to nursing homes. While all states are not on board, there's been plenty of criticism to go around.  Mostly based on the premise that nursing homes are pushing for protection to cover up for bad practices for which they're at fault. But many believe that immunity is the right move, and nursing homes shouldn't be held accountable for losses that occur during these times.  


Most nursing homes are currently short-staffed, attempting to reduce exposure to residents by having minimum workers present.  Imagine being the workers at these facilities, putting your life at risk for long hours, and witnessing horrific situations day after day only to wind up getting sued for negligence. The main points that supporters of immunity push are that most healthcare facilities and nursing homes couldn't get adequate PPE and supplies to fight COVID-19 at no fault of their own.  How can you hold them responsible when they were unable to follow CDC guidelines due to economic shortages?  


Though this may be true, there has been a recent discovery that the majority of nursing homes that had severe COVID-19 outbreaks received citations on their last health inspection for failing to implement an infection control program. So, this requirement existed before the pandemic. It's impossible to say how many lives could have been saved, but having an infection control program would have helped the situation.


Of course, those who don't agree with blanket immunity have a valid point, too. It seems that having such an all or nothing mindset doesn't resonate, and they feel that more should be done to make sure bad facilities aren't just skating. Shouldn't the process be more thorough? With proper investigation, we can grant immunity for those who did nothing wrong while holding those accountable that had the means of preventing infection.


While everyone would probably agree with this, it's a proposition that isn't likely to take place. Just because a facility failed a point on its last inspection doesn't mean that since then, they haven't gotten everything corrected. There's no way to prove whether a facility was or wasn't doing everything possible and doing it correctly during the time tragedy struck, or if they were just unlucky.  Given the nature of this virus, just because someone who was older and had underlying health conditions died, doesn't necessarily indicate that anyone did anything wrong.   


Certainly, facilities could be individually investigated, and things could be ascertained, like if they had adequate supplies at the time or not, etc. But one would have to go further and see if there were supplies available which they could've obtained but didn't order, or maybe they had adequate amounts but weren't using them correctly.  The possibilities are endless.  Just having the correct supplies doesn't guarantee anything.  The only people who will ever know what really happened at these nursing homes during COVID-19 are the ones who were there.  


Unfortunately, trying to determine who did right and who did wrong during this pandemic is just too complicated of a venture.  States will either grant immunity or they won't.  For those who grant immunity, only time will tell if it was the right move. Right now, it would appear that many state officials are choosing to trust in the good nature of their fellows rather than exercising cynicism. It's certainly the path of least resistance. However, that doesn't mean it's the right path.   


About the author 


Marcel Gemme has dedicated his life to helping others find help. He started his career in the field of substance abuse 20 years ago and has helped countless families find proper rehabilitation and treatment for their loved ones. He now focuses his attention on helping individuals find long-term Senior Care, he does this through his journalism, community outreach, and his website,  Excellent Care, Decency, and Optimal Living are what he aims to bring to individuals looking for care options for themselves or their aging loved ones.




The opinions in this editorial reflect the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of East County Magazine. To submit an editorial for consideration, contact



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