Report: Human Rights Watch Exposes Nursing Home Neglect, Staffing Shortages

Published: Monday, March 29, 2021 - 1:44pm

One of the leading organizations known for investigating human rights abuses around the globe issued a new report this week about nursing home neglect in the United States during the coronavirus pandemic. 

"So, there is no international law mechanism to protect specifically the rights of older people," she explained. "So whereas you have a Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, for example, there is no such mechanism for older people," said Laura Mills, the older person's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. 

Which is why Mills focuses on this topic. She also worked on the report.

"Many nursing home residents in the U.S. appeared to be harmed by neglect or prolonged isolation," she said. "We heard stories of people who lost a huge amount of weight without any explanation; became dehydrated to the point where they had to be hospitalized; had infected bed sores and eventually died of sepsis from those infections. And we also heard that because of restrictions on visitors, because they were very much confined to their room, this had real impacts on their physical and mental health. There are a lot more reports of depression and anxiety."

Mills also talked about the role of family members.

"To realize that family members are essentially this unpaid workforce that compensates for total understaffing in nursing homes was really shocking to me," she said. "And to see the outcome of that — it was so awful in terms of the neglect and the isolation and the decline."

Mills says there needs to be stable and better staffing in nursing homes. She says there is no national minimum staffing standard. A study recently came out showing that the mean turnover for nursing home staff is128%.

"This was not the natural progression of disease in older people," she said. "I think there's very much this idea out there that these people are sick anyway. But what we really saw is the isolation and neglect have clearly impacted them. There have been 40,000, non COVID deaths beyond what is normal, just between March and November."

Mills says nursing homes became much more of a “black box” during the pandemic when visits by family and independent monitors like ombudsmen were prohibited. Staffing shortages were another factor.

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