At San Diego Elder Law Center, we are mindful of the importance of visiting family members residing in nursing homes to assure quality of care. Conversely, we also understand and appreciate the need for certain visitation restrictions to help battle the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. How can we balance these two conflicting issues?
Before facilities went on lockdown, in some cases, a spouse or other family member was visiting daily to assure that meals were eaten, and nutritional needs were maintained. However, with the COVID-19 restrictions on visitation in effect, these family members may no longer have access to their loved ones and worry if nutritional goals are being met. Due to these restrictions, caregivers and family members are increasingly concerned with what is going on behind closed doors in our skilled nursing facilities.
We share in those concerns.
Unfortunately, understaffing was a growing problem long before the COVID-19 crisis. In fact, over the past several years more than half of the nursing facilities in California applied for permission from the Department of Health to staff below the state nursing and certified nursing assistant minimums. These waiver requests have been generously granted by the State, leaving many facilities below the legal staffing minimums. Now, with the stress of COVID-19 and potential loss of workers, it is hard to imagine the care being optimal in such facilities. We are keeping an eye on this ever-evolving situation for our clients, and we are advocating for change at the State policy level.
We are sadly not surprised to be hearing stories from some of our clients and their physicians of a recent trend in residents suffering from sudden and substantial weight loss. Residents who relied on their family to sit with them and ensure they are eating their meals are now, in some cases, simply not eating. As we often see, our nursing home system is one where residents best thrive when they have family and other caregivers plugged in and keeping an eye on their care. Now, during the exclusion of family and other visitors, these caregivers essential to the needed care and feeding are simply not there.
If you regularly visited and helped feed a loved one before the COVID-19 pandemic, you may still be able to help. We have seen some success with facilities making special arrangements for isolated areas where a family member can visit and assist their loved one with meals and keep an eye on their care and condition. We have found that open communication and a collaborative approach with facilities is key in times like these. We encourage and empower our clients to explore such alternatives.
You can also help in a broader sense. Contact your state and local legislators and share your concerns. Urge our lawmakers to adopt guidelines to keep our most vulnerable populations safe and hold our nursing facilities accountable during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond. Your voice matters.
While this may not describe you, this may describe someone you know. We are frequently enlisted to help in this fight, as we are armed with the knowledge of the law and regulations surrounding care and patients’ rights in these facilities, and we’re still here and ready to help!