It is no secret that coronavirus has hit America’s nursing homes particularly hard. Families nationwide are frantically trying to stay in contact with loved ones amidst curtailed visitation. Many others are waging a battle to gather information on coronavirus infections in their loved one’s facilities, grappling with laws that say facilities are only obligated to inform the families of the infected. According to an April 15, 2020 report from NBC News, the death toll at nursing homes has soared to 5,670 people. But that wouldn’t be the biggest shock of the week. On April 13, 2020, New Jersey authorities uncovered a house of horrors—17 bodies being improperly stored at Andover Subacute and Rehab Center I and II in Andover, New Jersey, according to CNN. All were being stored in body bags with tags identifying the deceased but conditions were extremely cramped. The morgue at the nursing home is only designed to hold four bodies at a time.
Thus far, 68 deaths have been linked to Andover Subacute and Rehab Center I and II. But that facility is just one of hundreds of nursing homes nationwide that have seen unprecedented levels of death. NBC reports that 2.3% of nursing home residents in New York have died from the coronavirus. This raises the question: How do nursing homes take care of dead bodies? According to a study published in the journal Geriatric Nursing, many nursing homes make certified nursing assistants handle dead bodies, which staff find traumatic; many staff would prefer that the facility hire an undertaker. In the case of Andover Subacute and Rehab Center, police received an anonymous tip (thought to have come from a staff member), which led them to the discovery of the overcrowded makeshift morgue.
The 2,543-bed Andover Subacute and Rehab Center I and II is one of the largest nursing homes in New Jersey. With such a large facility, it is no surprise that the coronavirus has hit the facility hard, leading to deaths. When questioned about the makeshift morgue, facility co-owner Chaim Sheinbaum cited “after hours holiday weekend issues” as one of the reasons why bodies were allowed to pile up. But this raises the question, why wasn’t the facility prepared? Many unanswered questions remain.
This is not the first instance in which overburdened nursing homes have improperly stored the bodies of dead residents. Linden Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in New York was storing ten bodies in a room cooled only by air conditioning, the New York Post reported on April 14, 2020. Just like Andover Subacute and Rehab Center I and II, Linden Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation has a morgue that is only designed to hold four bodies. Prior to the arrival of COVID-19—what many are calling the “invisible enemy”—that wasn’t a problem. But now, strained by unprecedented levels of death and few resources, underpaid and overworked front-line staff members are struggling to figure out what to do with the bodies. Confusion reigned among staff members as they tried to figure out what temperature to store the bodies at—armed with only a thermostat and an ordinary room. By the time the news arrived to cover this story at Linden Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, the facility had parked a refrigerated truck at the back of the parking lot. Nursing home administrators should have had a plan in place to treat these deceased patients with the dignity and respect they deserve.
How is the government responding to nursing homes’ handling of the coronavirus crisis and high death rates among nursing home residents? On Wednesday, April 15, 2020, a bipartisan Congressional delegation from New Jersey asked for help from the U.S. Public Health Service. The U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, has the authority to deploy the Service to help relieve critical staffing shortages at nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Understaffing has long been a problem at nursing homes and the coronavirus crisis has brought the issue to the fore. Phil Murphy, New Jersey’s governor, announced on Thursday, April 16 that the state’s attorney general, Gurbir Grewal, was commencing a wide-ranging investigation into long-term care facilities. Part of his investigation will focus on certain facilities that have had particularly high numbers of resident deaths. But for residents’ families who learned that their loved ones were being stored in cramped and/or wholly inappropriate quarters, any action has been too little, too late.
If your loved one was not treated with dignity at a nursing home, don’t hesitate to contact a nursing home abuse attorney. Call (877) 238-4175 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for your free case consultation.