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Exposed in Hospice Care : Negligence Cases Against Hospice for Coronavirus

Administrators of hospice care facilities and home health agencies watched with anxiety as the COVID-19 virus spread around the world in early 2020. Hospice residents, nearly all of whom were battling serious, life-threatening conditions before the spread of coronavirus, may have been the most vulnerable in the event of infection.

In Palm Beach County, Florida, at least one administrator realized her facility was ill prepared for the pandemic. She had to contact an uncle in New Jersey to supply enough face masks for hospice employees, a fix that only helped in the short term, according to the Palm Peach Post.

By the end of March, many hospice facilities and home health agencies were mandating the use of protective equipment by nurses and aides, to limit spread of the virus, and were experimenting with remote visits, by telephone or computer, and limiting in-person visits to emergencies.

Was it too little too late?

By that time, according to Trustbridge, which serves some 1,800 residents in Broward and Palm Beach Counties alone, an undisclosed number of residents had contracted the COVID-19 virus. With the only contact from the outside world coming from caregivers, residents who contract the virus may have few places to look for sources of exposure.

A resident exposed to coronavirus by a hospice facility or home health agency may pursue a claim against the facility or agency if the facility or agency was responsible for the exposure event.

How Coronavirus Spreads in Hospice Care

Coronavirus can spread in a hospice or by home health care in the following ways:

  • Droplets expelled when an infected worker in a facility coughs or sneezes land on surfaces in a resident’s room or home, where the virus can survive for hours, even days, leading to exposure;
  • Droplets from an infected worker are placed on surfaces in a resident’s room or home when the infected worker touches the surfaces, leading to exposure;
  • Droplets left by an infected worker are transferred to residents when the residents touch surfaces contacted by the infected worker;
  • Although not “the major mechanism of transmission… viruses can be transmitted through the air in tiny, dry particles known as aerosols;”
  • Close proximity to an infected worker exposes a resident in hospice care to the virus;
  • Contact with or proximity to an infected worker causes exposure.

Studies have shown that once particles containing a virus are introduced into a hospice resident’s environment the risk of transmission is greater than with a healthy person, because hospice residents commonly have “compromised physiological barriers… immunosuppression, malnutrition, dehydration, comorbidities, and functional impairments.” As long ago as 2015, the Institute of Medicine reported that “infections are common terminal events” among hospice residents.

Some Facilities Fail To Enact Protective Measures, Despite Risks

After the World Health Organization reported that a mysterious pneumonia was sickening persons in Wuhan, China, some end-of-life care facilities began preparing for the eventual spread of the virus to the United States. Other facilities, however, had “a bungled response to the coronavirus outbreak” which led to dozens of deaths in one nursing home facility alone.

Some facilities, complaining that they were “understaffed and underfunded,” failed “to plan ahead and take precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the virus in their communities,” according to Time, leading one relative of an affected resident said “I think somebody somewhere decided that this population of people wasn’t worth wasting resources on.”

Duty of Hospice Facilities to Protect Residents From Coronavirus Injuries

Hospice facilities and home health agencies have a duty to take reasonable steps to ensure safe treatment of residents. Numerous medical studies have made the end-of-life care industry well aware of the special risks that infectious diseases pose to hospice care residents.

If a person has been exposed to the COVID-19 virus as a result of the negligence of a hospice care facility, the person may be entitled to damages for out-of-pocket medical costs, pain and suffering, and any permanent damage or loss of function caused by the infection.

Charlotte Personal Injury Lawyers Can Help Infected Residents With Negligence Claims

Persons infected with COVID-19 may pursue claims against hospice care facilities for any of the following potential breaches of the duty to exercise reasonable care:

  • Failure to test residents for the virus;
  • Failure to screen residents for symptoms;
  • Failure to enact reasonable social distancing measures to protect residents;
  • Failure to quarantine residents showing symptoms;
  • Failure to test hospice workers and inquire into their travels and contacts with third parties, to determine their risk of exposure;
  • Failure to screen workers for symptoms;
  • Failure to enact disinfectant and social distancing guidelines for workers;
  • Failure to screen guests;
  • Failure to enact disinfectant and social distancing guidelines for guests;
  • Failure to screen third-party vendors, to determine their risk of exposure;
  • Failure to screen third-party vendors for symptoms;
  • Failure to enact disinfectant and social distancing guidelines for third-party vendors;
  • Failure to adequately respond to the onset of virus symptoms in residents;
  • Failure to seek testing of patients in timely manner for presence of virus;
  • Failure to close facilities to outsiders, to protect residents.

If a facility failed to take reasonable steps to protect residents from exposure to the COVID-19 virus, a person injured by the facility’s negligence may be entitled to compensation. The professionals at Arnold & Smith, PLLC can assist hospice residents injured by the COVID-19 virus.

Contact Our Personal Injury Attorneys Today To Schedule A Free Consultation

The best thing a hospice resident injured by exposure to the coronavirus can do is contact an experienced, local personal injury attorney. With offices in Charlotte, Monroe, and Mooresville, Arnold & Smith, PLLC handles personal injury cases across the entire State of North Carolina. Contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today to set up a free initial consultation.

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