The death toll at nursing homes in the United States from the Coronavirus continues to climb. According to the New York Times, of the estimated 110,000 deaths so far, approximately one-third (~35,000) are residents of nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, and institutions that care for the elderly. With residents continuing to die, more people are starting to ask the hard question: Why? Why are elderly in nursing facilities that are supposed to have stringent infection control measures, becoming exposed and dying at a disproportionate rate? Why is it that we have tens of thousands of deaths here in the U.S., but Hong Kong has zero? Why didn’t facilities do more to stop residents from being exposed to the virus?
The case of two sisters, Aida and Haydee Pabey, both 20-year veteran detectives with the New York Police Department, shows just how hard it is for even people in law enforcement to get answers. On April 6, 2020, the sisters received a call from the nursing home where their mother resided, informing them that she had died from the Coronavirus. They raced to the institution, identified themselves as crime scene investigators, but were refused entry, even though they were wearing masks, gloves, bootees, and face shields. Since then, the home has resolutely refused to discuss the case, how the virus got in, and what measures they took to try to prevent residents from becoming infected. Unfortunately, such stonewall tactics are common at nursing home chains even during regular times.
Luckily, we do have eyewitness accounts of what’s going on inside nursing homes from residents who are still alive. CNN is reporting the case of Linda Mayberry, a 66-year-old resident of a facility in Bellflower, CA, who has been live-tweeting updates from her locked-down facility. The picture she paints is grim. She tested positive for the virus and was sent to an isolation ward. According to her reports, she wasn’t given a shower for more than a month and also wasn’t even given assistance to get out of bed. Once she voiced concerns about her situation online, she was “grilled by a corporate bigwig.” She says that residents are not given any updates on cases, and the only data she can get is from information posted by the State of California online. So far, 12 of her fellow residents have died.
Tragedies like the one Linda Mayberry is experiencing didn’t need to happen. Facilities like the one she resides in failed to control the virus, failed to take adequate protections, and failed to test until it was too late. Linda worries that the staff of her care facility will stop showing up for work. As bad as it is now, things may get much worse.
Nursing home chains aren’t the victims; instead, it is the residents who are being made to suffer because of corporate incompetence and greed. Residents that were systematically and financially exploited, with their Federal Government subsidized care dollars spent on fat corporate salaries instead of protective gear and putting into place Infection Control practices. We need to hold negligent facilities accountable. We need to help folks like Linda Mayberry while there’s still time.
Attorney Wendy York of York Law Firm specializes in prosecuting elder abuse and wrongful death cases.