As Illinois hits its peak , and many states begin to loosen their restrictions , there are persistent reminders that the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) crisis is far from finished and that lives are still at risk. Chief among these reminders are headlines of outbreaks within Illinois nursing homes, affecting both healthcare workers and some of our state’s most vulnerable residents.
According to data from the Illinois Department of Public Health released April 24, 2020, COVID-19 cases at long-term care facilities grew to over 4,200, and the number of deaths grew from 286 to 624. In Cook County alone, more than half of all COVID-19 deaths have been in nursing homes. In the words of one nursing home worker, “This is a bloodbath. I feel like my heart is breaking.”(source) Dr. Susan Bleasdale, Chief Quality Officer and Infectious Disease Specialist for UI Health stated, “[a]ll of these sort of group communal settings are opportunities for COVID to spread very quickly, and it’s in a vulnerable population. To that end, the Illinois Department of Public Health have instructed facility administrators to restrict visits, cancel group activities, shut down dining rooms, and screen residents and staff for fevers and respiratory diseases.
Especially disconcerting to those on the front lines of fighting this outbreak is the lack of adequate available personal protective equipment (PPE). This puts workers in an unenviable position – PPE is often times not available, and some have municipalities have cited workers who do not use it, as was the case with the City View Multi-Care Center in Cicero. Some of the allegations coming from nursing home workers are particularly disturbing. Workers have cited the lack of PPE, failure to implement strict infection control measures, and staffing shortages as exacerbating the crisis. Workers at the Woodbridge nursing home in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood say administrators told them that masks were “10 times more expensive” than they were before the crisis, and some staff received masks that they were asked to wear for a week at a time. Workers at another Chicago nursing home said that they were told to reuse PPE. “We were told to wear the same gowns in and out of most of the rooms. We knew we were spreading it from patient to patient,” one nursing home worker said.
Staffing shortages are compounding the lack of PPE. “There’s not enough nurses. There’s not enough CNAs. I have a staffing shortage just like every other building in the state of Illinois,” said the administrator of Lakeview Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. One Lakeview worker alleged that those workers that test positive are required to take off 30 days, which could discourage workers from disclosing a COVID-19 diagnosis because they do not have sufficient paid time off to cover that requirement.
This is pushing many workers to their breaking point. Many workers are demanding better staffing, more training, and adequate PPE to guard themselves against getting sick at work, and to better protect their families. However, the fact remains that between the lack of PPE, the concentration of vulnerable individuals in nursing homes, and the cost-cutting measures some nursing home administrators are taking, nursing home workers are putting theirs and their families’ lives at risk.
Workers’ compensation attorneys at Katz Friedman are currently representing many nursing home employees in work accident cases against their employers and will continue to investigate claims being made by nursing home workers whether it takes place from lifting, slipping, falling, or contracting COVID-19. When making decisions regarding a work injury sustained while working in a nursing home, it is wise to consult an attorney to protect your interests because it is clear that the nursing home will work vigorously to defeat your claim. If you or someone you know works in a nursing home and suffers from COVID-19, the attorneys and staff of Katz Friedman are here to help with obtaining proper compensation.