Nursing Home Outbreak at Stearns Facility Points to Sick Care Workers
An Illinois nursing home in Madison County is under investigation related to a COVID-19 outbreak that has killed 12 people and infected more than 100. Stearns Nursing and Rehabilitation Center is located at 2900 Stearns Avenue in Granite City. The 109-bed home operates as a lower quality, One-Star Medicare Certified, Medicaid Approved skilled nursing center.
In response to the coronavirus outbreak, an investigation led by the Illinois Department of Health (IDPH) revealed that the nursing home allowed employees to continue working despite testing positive for COVID-19. A facility director cited Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines that address mitigating staff shortages to justify the shortcoming.
Too many nursing homes in Illinois have struggled to provide adequate care for years and have been running critically low on workers even before the pandemic. Many of the poorly operated homes are run by national business chains or private owners seeking to maximize profits. They do so by lightening workers’ payloads and intentionally understaffing their facilities. Sadly, nearly 70% of all long-term care networks in the U.S. are for-profit owned, and not-for-profit homes and Veteran’s facilities can face similar care and abuse problems.
Stearns Has a History of Poor Care Performance
IDPH has consistently identified Stearns for failure to comply with mandatory state regulations, including the home’s inability to meet or rank above state and federal staffing averages. Also, multiple 2019 inspection reports and complaints show Stearns was cited for various violations of the Nursing Home Care Act. This statute provides nursing home residents and their families with the assurance that proper and safe care will be received. Those violations included failure to provide and implement an infection prevention and control program, deficiencies in pressure ulcer care and wound care, inadequate staffing levels, a home not free from accident hazards, able to provide adequate supervision to prevent accidents, and the inability to follow resident care plans and preferences. This is just one summary of IDPH’s inspection report completed on July 2, 2019.
“Based on observation, record review and interview, the facility failed to follow standard precautions to prevent the spread of infections during care for 5 of 5 residents (R35, R46, R75, R99, R102) reviewed for infection control in the sample of 43.
On 6/26/19 at 3:32 PM, R35 was taken to her room for the treatment. V9 brought her treatment cart directly into R35’s room. The bottom to both pant legs were wet with fluid from her lower legs draining. Both of R35’s lower legs were weeping from [MEDICAL CONDITION] (swelling). Both pant legs were soiled with body fluid and both gripper socks were wet. V9 confirmed the fluid was draining from her lower legs. During the treatment, V9 left R3’s weeping feet resting on the floor with open areas. After completing treatment, V9 removed her gloves, then left the room without sanitizing or washing her hands. V9 locked treatment cart and took soiled dressing in the bag, unlocked the door of soiled utility room and disposed of the soiled bag. V9 then came back to treatment cart, unlocked it and took treatment cart to the middle of hall. No staff cleansed R35’s drainage of body fluid from the floor.”
In the past three years, the number of complaints against Stearns has resulted in 21 citations.
What Should A Nursing Home Do If Short Staffed During the Pandemic?
The CDC offers several guidelines for skilled-nursing facilities to follow when staffing shortages occur, including the implementation of crisis capacity strategies to continue to provide safe patient care. These tactics are proven to lessen the exposure risk of COVID-19 among residents and staff. Before reaching a crisis level similar to what Stearns is said to be at, at a baseline, healthcare facilities must:
- Understand their staffing needs and the minimum number of staff needed to provide a safe work environment and safe patient care.
- Be in communication with local healthcare coalitions, federal, state, and local public health partners (e.g., public health emergency preparedness and response staff) to identify additional healthcare personnel (HCP) (e.g., hiring additional HCP, recruiting retired HCP, using students or volunteers), when needed.
According to the CDC, as of July 17, 2020, when there are no longer enough staff to provide safe patient care and a home has reached crisis capacity, a facility must:
- Implement regional plans to transfer patients with COVID-19 to designated healthcare facilities, or alternate care sites with adequate staffing
- If not already done, implement plans to allow asymptomatic HCP who have had an unprotected exposure to SARS-CoV-2 but are not known to be infected to continue to work.
- If shortages continue despite other mitigation strategies, the facility leadership should consider implementing criteria to allow healthcare personnel with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 who are well enough and willing to work but have not met all Return to Work Criteria to work.
Suppose workers are permitted to return to work before meeting all Return to Work Criteria. In that case, they should still adhere to all Return to Work Practices and Work Restrictions recommendations, including wearing a face mask at all times to limit exposing patients and co-workers. If they must remove their mask, they should separate themselves from others.
Good Care Workers Become Easily Overwhelmed by The Bad Ones
The CDC also notes, “Healthcare facilities must be prepared for potential staffing shortages and have plans and processes in place to mitigate these, including communicating with HCP about actions the facility is taking to address shortages and maintain patient and HCP safety and providing resources to assist HCP with anxiety and stress.”
As the outbreak continues, several Stearns HCP have voiced their frustrations to local media and shared personal stories about their employer’s ill-preparedness, ongoing staffing issues, and lack of support for teams to test and care for sick residents. Shortages often have dire effects for the truly dedicated employees.
IDPH Discourages Sick Workers to Continue Providing Care to Vulnerable Residents
IDPH responded to the Stearns outbreak and its short-staffing situation by saying, “While the CDC allows a positive employee who is asymptomatic to continue working if there is a crisis staffing shortage, IDPH discourages it.” Facilities should consider this course of action only if “there is no alternative after they have exhausted all options.”
There is no doubt that all kinds of healthcare facilities will experience staffing shortages due to COVID-19. Still, based on Stearn’s history in failed safety and care compliance, many family members may be left to wonder if all options were truly exhausted and, if so, what steps the facility administrators and owners took before the pandemic to address years of staffing shortage violations? It also remains unclear exactly how many Stearns employees have tested positive for COVID-19 and how many were allowed to stay at work, provided extra protection, and at what capacity?
As a result, previously understaffed long-term care systems such as Stearns, have likely prolonged the weakened care of our most vulnerable citizens due to COVID-19.
Worker Shortages Contribute to Almost All Nursing Home Struggles
Understaffing challenges force employees to be responsible for an overwhelming number of patients with high care needs. And risky cost-cutting measures and unethical practices eventually create a ripple of adverse effects that nursing home residents ultimately pay for.
- Research from the Nursing Home Abuse Center indicates that as many as 95 percent of nursing home-type facilities in the U.S. are understaffed.
- In 2018, an AARP report ranked Illinois among the worst states for handling the nursing home understaffing crisis.
- About a quarter of the residents in Chicago-area facilities live in understaffed conditions.
Worker shortages also contribute to nursing home struggles that sometimes lead to preventable hospitalizations, injuries, or deaths. Most victims of understaffed homes will suffer a combination of these injuries.
- Bed sores, pressure sores, and decubitus ulcers
- Malnutrition and dehydration
- Spread of infectious diseases
- Clogged breathing tubes
- Over-prescription and medication errors
- Physical or chemical restraints
- Wandering and elopement from facilities
- Financial or material exploitation
- Intimidation, humiliation, and harassment
- Physical abuse
- Sexual assault
- Verbal and emotional abuse
Our team of nursing home abuse and neglect attorneys plan to follow this story as more outbreak details are released. In the meantime, if you suspect an understaffed nursing home facility has contributed to the decline of a loved one’s health or put them in danger during this unprecedented time, please contact us for a free consultation.
Nationally Recognized Leaders in Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect Law
We want to remind you to be safe in this uncertain time and take extra precautions with your loved ones, especially if they are residents at Stearns Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Madison County. If you need to turn to legal help, be comforted in knowing that the team at Levin & Perconti has been advocates for victims of nursing home abuse and neglect with over 150 years of combined litigation experience and will continue to help empower victims throughout this crisis.
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: National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD), Division of Viral Diseases, Strategies to Mitigate Healthcare Personnel Staffing Shortages