FAQ: July 2020 COVID-19 Update for Illinois Nursing Home Families
As of July 10th, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) has reported 23,324 laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases and 3,895 deaths among all Illinois long-term care (LTC) facilities, not just outbreaks. These numbers reflect over half of all coronavirus cases tied to long-term care facilities, including nursing homes and assisted living centers.
Because of the ill-preparedness and disastrous response to the pandemic by several nursing home owners and operators, the attorneys at Levin & Perconti have launched more than 100 investigations regarding gross negligence related to COVID-19 outbreaks in Illinois. And as part of our work as elder care advocates, we have provided answers and legal solutions to concerned family members and nursing home workers since the pandemic began.
With support and resources provided by IDPH and other regulatory agencies, we have been able to collect these frequently asked questions and answers to many of our community partners and clients during this time. This information is subject to change based on the most updated risk metrics and long-term care surveillance provided by health officials.
Q: Who is in charge of regulating nursing homes?
IDPH is responsible for ensuring approximately 1,200 long-term care facilities
nursing homes comply fully with mandatory state regulations. The Department also works closely with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in ensuring that facilities meet federal laws and certification rules.
Q: How are nursing home owners protecting LTC residents from COVID-19?
A: Administrators have been instructed to restrict most visits, cancel group activities, close dining rooms, provide safety gear, and screen residents and staff for fevers and respiratory diseases. This means that large group activities are no longer permitted, and temperature checks and checklists are being utilized to identify symptomatic individuals. Administrators should be informing staff to stay home when sick and ensure non-punitive practices are followed during this time.
All staff must be educated on and correctly performing hand hygiene, donning and doffing of personal protective equipment (PPE), and using appropriate products for environmental cleaning and room disinfection. Administrators must also work to ensure adequate PPE supplies, sanitizers, and disinfectants, testing supplies, and masks are available.
Q: Is the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Illinois nursing homes dropping?
A: Especially for older Americans, the coronavirus threat is not over. And with surges now peaking throughout the country, there is no doubt that the novel virus will continue to attack Illinois’ long-term care facilities, nursing homes, and assisted living centers, all poised for widespread transmission. According to IDPH, clusters of COVID-19 cases are still being traced to skilled nursing facilities in Illinois each week.
Q: Who is currently being tested for COVID-19?
A: IDPH requires every skilled and intermediate LTC facility to test all residents and staff for COVID-19. Each facility must collect specimens and arrange for laboratory testing. The number of residents and staff tested and the number of positive, negative, and indeterminate test results are then to be reported to public health officials.
Q: Are all facilities reporting confirmed cases or outbreaks?
A: Although facilities are required to report infectious disease cases to their local health departments, many are not. Some residents and their family members remain unknowing about what is happening within their homes, leaving many unaware of outbreaks or a loved one’s positive COVID-19 status. Families have the right to expect that nursing home owners and corporations are taking the appropriate precautions to protect residents and staff from infectious diseases.
Q: What types of issues are related to infection control failures?
A: Residents and frontline workers may face these coronavirus challenges, many of which are preventable.
- overexertion due to reduced staffing levels
- unsafe patient handling or transfers
- lack of prevention and control of contagious diseases
- hiring inexperienced workers and failing to train them
- mismanagement of medications
- wrongful evictions
- abuse and neglect
Q: How are facilities testing? Do they have a plan?
A: In late spring, each facility was mandated to develop and to implement a written COVID-19 testing plan and response strategy by June 11th that accounted for scenarios when the facility is or is not experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak.
The testing strategy must identify:
- name of ordering physician
- method of obtaining consents
- criteria and frequency for testing residents and staff
The testing results should be used to identify cases with no symptoms, confirm infection in cases with symptoms, evaluate quality indicators, follow-up on infection control programs, and support decision-making.
Q: Who has access to infection control policies? Who reviews them?
A: Each facility must make available a copy of its infection control policies and procedures to all residents, the resident’s family or representative or guardian, as well as to IDPH and its local health department.
Q: Do employees have to wear masks?
A: Employees must wear a mask (universal masking) during their shift to protect residents. Staff must wear masks when entering the building. IDPH does allow for employees to utilize extended use or re-use techniques with masks and eye protection when PPE supply is low. Face covers (and other PPE) must be changed when visibly soiled.
Q: Are LTC facilities legally required to notify residents, family, or staff of COVID-19 cases?
A: Yes. An LTC facility must provide notification to staff, residents, the resident’s next of kin or guardians, and IDPH when people working or living in the facility are diagnosed with COVID-19. Verbal communication is to be provided immediately upon diagnosis as required by 77 Ill. Admin. Code 300.3210(o).
Q: Will a resident who receives a COVID-19 diagnosis be treated differently?
A: Residents with confirmed COVID-19 or displaying respiratory symptoms should receive services in their room with the door closed (e.g., meals, physical and occupational therapy, activities, and personal hygiene). They may be moved to another area in the facility or transferred to a local hospital or other nursing home designated for residents with positive cases.
Q: When will I be notified if my loved one has died from COVID-19?
A: The facility administration must notify the next of kin, emergency contact, or guardian within 24 hours of the resident’s passing.
Q: What if a worker is symptomatic of COVID-19?
A: Symptomatic staff should be considered possible cases and excluded from work and told to self-isolate at home for a minimum of 10 days after onset and seek their health care provider’s advice.
Q: Is there a place online to find more information about COVID-19 outbreaks or confirmed cases inside Illinois nursing homes?
A: IDPH has provided an online map of long-term care facilities in Illinois with confirmed outbreaks and cases of COVID-19. The numbers are provisional, and the list is updated weekly. Visit the IDPH website here and scroll down to find the county in which the facility you are looking for is located. As well, Levin & Perconti’s nursing home negligence team is working diligently to post the most updated news regarding outbreaks in Illinois nursing homes here on our blog.
Q: Should everyone inside a nursing home be wearing protective gear or face masks?
A: Staff are instructed to wear PPE, and residents should wear masks when possible. When entering the room of a patient with known or suspected COVID-19, staff should wear a face mask, gown, gloves, and eye protection. Unfortunately, there have been several reported cases of nursing homes not being provided the appropriate amount of PPE, including masks.
Q: What do I do if I think my loved one was neglected and that is why they now have COVID-19 or died from it?
A: The bottom line is that facilities should have been prepared for and prevented COVID-19 from spreading within their facility. It is their job to protect both residents and workers. In the event they were not, infection control procedures must be reviewed and investigated, including the proper use of PPE, cleaning, and isolation or quarantine measures. Nursing home owners and possibly legal authorities need to act promptly so residents will no longer be at risk.
Our advice is to call IDPH’s hotline at 1-800-889-3931 to report issues related to COVID-19 infections at long-term care facilities. And then share your concerns with an Illinois nursing home negligence attorney at Levin & Perconti. It is our job to help.
Chicago Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect Help Related to COVID-19
At Levin & Perconti, we have the experience and resources to investigate claims and are currently standing up to violators who choose not to protect residents and staff from harm caused by the novel coronavirus. Our nursing home lawyers have been successful in launching several investigations into gross negligence in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Time is of the essence. If you are considering a legal case against an Illinois nursing home related to COVID-19 or want to share your story to help others, please contact us for a free consultation at 877-374-1417 or 312-332-2872. All calls and discussions with our attorneys are confidential.
Source: Illinois Department of Public Health, Long Term Care Facilities Guidance