As coronavirus continues to sweep through the Nation, it leaves a trail of death and despair in its wake — hitting particularly hard throughout the Nation’s nursing home communities. According to a special report from the New York Times, almost one-third of all overall COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. are linked to nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
However, the numbers are much worse in Illinois. According to IDPH and the Illinois National Electronic Disease Surveillance System (INEDSS):
- The first case of COVID-19 in an Illinois long-term care facility was diagnosed on March 11, and a large outbreak ensued.
- In Illinois, 46% of all deaths from COVID-19 have been in long-term care centers.
- *As of July 16, 2021, the total number of laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths among residents in all long-term care facilities, not just outbreaks, is 80,247 cases and 10,623 deaths.
(*The number of confirmed cases and deaths at long-term care facilities can be found at http://dph.illinois.gov/covid19/long-term-care-facility-outbreaks-covid-19.
The numbers are provisional and updated weekly.
LTC facilities will have the most up-to-date information on cases in their facility.)
Likewise, nursing homes aren’t the only ones facing failures and left on the hook. Owners of brick-and-mortar businesses open to the public, product distributors, transportation companies, construction companies, industrial manufacturers, and even online retailers grapple with understanding their risk of personal injury claims stemming from COVID-19.
Vaccine Participation Provides Hope Yet Many Preventable Care Problems Remain
Nearly 1,500 long-term care facilities in Illinois, 99% of the total number licensed in the state, are enrolled in the state’s Covid vaccination program. IDPH has worked together with Walgreens, CVS, and PharmScript to hold three vaccination clinics at each facility over three months, tallying 4,500 clinic sessions in total. In March 2021, with COVID-19 cases in decline and evidence of the effectiveness of vaccinations, IDPH released long-term care guidance for the safe resumption of visitation and activities.
But even though Covid deaths have dropped off steeply this year as the vaccine rolled out, back in December 2020, more than half of all Covid-19 deaths in the state were in nursing homes, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH).
“Why is that?” Levin & Perconti partner Steven Levin asked. “No. 1 is that residents can’t defend themselves and are at the mercy of the care providers. No. 2, the nursing home industry was tragically unprepared to deal with COVID when they already are struggling with ordinary staffing issues and ordinary infection control procedures.”
Unfortunately, we know that a fair number of nursing home operators work to increase profit by cutting staffing costs, resulting in fewer nurses and more deficiencies in care. In facilities like these, professional nursing care is often replaced by less skilled CNAs or other employees who receive lower wages. The pandemic has only highlighted this issue and created the perfect storm for an infectious disease to spread.
“So, when the virus began spreading, it took a badly performing industry and blew the doors off. The nursing home long-term care industry has to be held accountable for the number of deaths that occurred on their watch,” Levin said. “The magnitude of the deaths that occurred would not have occurred if they had a well-functioning system in place to protect residents. And they need to be held accountable.”
As nursing homes and these businesses start being held accountable, what does it mean for the legal insurance industry?
“The reality of the situation is we have so many unresolved cases at just our firm alone. I think the legal community is waiting to see what happens; if we win, they’ll jump on it,” Levin said.
For example, Levin & Perconti is currently representing more than a dozen of the 36 Illinois veterans who died in a November 2020 outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home. The firm argues these deaths were preventable tragedies, and the nursing home failed to follow federal guidelines outlining proper protocol, procedures, and training. Though the state is starting to see the first of big lawsuits, including Levin & Perconti’s stand against the LaSalle Veterans’ Home, the true impact of these claims has yet to be felt.
State Report Reveals How Coronavirus Spread at The LaSalle Veterans’ Home
In late spring 2021, The Illinois Department of Human Services Office of Inspector General (OIG) released its investigative report identifying the causes behind the massive COVID-19 outbreak in the fall of 2020 at the state-run veterans’ home in LaSalle. The long-awaited public report confirmed what many of us already know and outlines the unforgiving failures that resulted in the untimely death of 36 people from coronavirus. Notes published by the OIG show that the facility did not implement the proper infection control policies to prevent the spread of the disease among staff and residents and allowed a deadly outbreak to go on despite warnings.
The report paints a gloomy picture that documents failures from many. It leads with, “Ultimately, our investigation determined that the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs’ (IDVA) lack of COVID-19 preparation contributed to the scope of the outbreak at the home. In addition, failures in communication at the home and within the IDVA leadership also contributed to a delayed response to the outbreak.”
After the outbreak began at the start of November 2020, inspections led by Federal and state surveyors of the LaSalle Veterans Home also revealed:
- inappropriate use of hand sanitizer that was alcohol-free and not effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19
- relaxed screening protocol at the staff entrance to the facility
- care staff congregating, not social distancing or wearing masks
The home is located at 1015 Oconor Avenue in downstate LaSalle.
You can review the full OIG published report titled, The Fall 2020 COVID-19 Outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home, here.
What has been revealed by the OIG report is very much consistent with what we’ve seen at other facilities where these massive coronavirus outbreaks happened. There are well-documented ways to protect nursing home residents from infection, clearly outlined in federal guidelines. But when leaders fail to put those protocols into practice with adequate policies, procedures and training, we see the devastating consequences of those failures.
Nursing Home Operators Have Documented History of Infectious Disease Blunders
The leadership team at the IDVA is responsible for overseeing operations in LaSalle and at the state’s three other veterans’ homes in Quincy, Anna, and Manteno. The OIG investigation further demonstrated how the IDVA administration had failed to communicate care expectations and was not actively inspecting conditions at the facilities or providing support. It’s not surprising, though, as previous health and safety audits of all four IDVA homes in 2019 showed:
- policies were inconsistent between the homes
- policies were incomplete or outdated
- infection control policies DID exist, but “it was not clear how they are integrated into an Infection Control Management Program”
All of the facilities in Illinois operated by the state have a strong history of providing troublesome care and are consistently understaffed. As a result, they have earned unapologetic 1–3-star ratings, showcasing some of the most deficient quality care measures among long-term care facilities in the state.
Ultimately, while COVID-19 cases were falling across the state of Illinois and vaccinations were on the not-so-far-away horizon, the extreme carelessness in LaSalle continued. Preventable deaths and sicknesses occurred due to the lack of leadership and failures in following safety protocols. The event is now linked to long-standing evidence in the low quality of care provided at the home, its reduced staffing levels, and infectious disease-related issues that could have been prevented with the proper preparedness expected of them. Our attorneys believe there were standards in place that should have been followed and practices that could have been enforced, and the April 2021 OIG report confirms this.
We are experienced in helping veterans who have suffered at the hands of a poorly performing VA nursing home – and we urge others to come forward now to share their stories. In addition, if you are a nursing home employee who has witnessed this suffering, we can also help you.
Illinois Nursing Home Residents Deserve Respect, Quality Care, and Covid Protections
Levin & Perconti is one of the most widely known and respected nursing home abuse and neglect law firms in the country, serving residents, staff, and families who have been impacted by nursing home abuse, wrongful death, malpractice, or neglect due to the pandemic. Our attorneys are dedicated to ensuring our clients are protected and their voices heard and stories told. If you are considering a legal case against an Illinois veterans’ home or long-term care facility related to COVID-19, please contact us for a free consultation at 877-374-1417. You can also reach us in Chicago at 312-332-2872.