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What causes deadly infections like COVID-19 to break out in nursing homes?

Deadly infections in nursing homes

Nursing home residents are among the most susceptible to infectious diseases, especially those caused by viruses. Earlier this year, we saw the devastation in a Washington State nursing home, where the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) caused several resident deaths.

According to the Washington Post, the outbreak was originally mistaken for a case of influenza. As it turned out, several employees at the King County nursing home tested positive with COVID-19.

How deadly infections in nursing homes start

A recent study found employees of long-term health care facilities report for work even when they are suffering from the flu and other dangerous ailments. Not only is the practice a violation of employee sick-time policies, it exposes vulnerable patients to additional health risks.

The report discovered almost 90 percent of health care staff went to work with an acute respiratory illness over a five-month period. Their symptoms included a fever of more than 99.1 degrees, headache, sore throat, shortness of breath, chills, muscle and/or joint pain, coughing, wheezing, fatigue, congestion or runny nose, or change of mental status or confusion.

Part of the problem, experts say, is that health care personnel feel pressure to report to work when not feeling well. Overall, staffing levels are tight, they say, allowing little room to cover for absent employees without calling in someone on their day off. Health care professionals, to their credit, are dedicated to their patients despite their own problems.

If you’re sick, stay home

Among other precautions, experts recommend employees stay home for at least 24 hours after their fever (a temperature of 100 degrees or higher) subsides. Employees with no fever but other flu symptoms should stay home at least four to five days after symptoms appears. (The flu is most contagious during the first three days.)

Employers can alleviate the stress on staff with more cross-training so employees can cover for each other. They also can implement flexible leave policies and alternate work schedules that take into account individual needs. Some current polices should be reconsidered, including those rewarding employees for not using their sick time.

“It's about culture and philosophy, and until we can change that, it will continue to be a challenge,” said Dr. Hilary M. Babcock, the study’s lead author.

Seek legal help if your loved one became ill

Unfortunately, not all employers are so open-minded when it comes to reassessing sick leave policies. Make no mistake: They are putting your loved ones who are residents of their facilities at risk. If your loved one suffers a serious illness – or, tragically, you lose a loved one – facility management will employ every bureaucratic ploy in their defense. They will stall. They will hide behind their lawyers and insurance company.

The Law Office of George S. Johnson specializes in handling nursing home neglect and assisted living abuse cases in Atlanta and throughout Georgia. Law firm founder George S. Johnson has more than 20 years of experience with cases involving deadly infections in nursing homes. Contact us today for a free case consultation.

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