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Nursing homes taking in COVID-19 positive residents sets a dangerous new precedent

Alabama nursing home attorney

The older population is among the most susceptible to disease, especially those caused by contagious viral infections. Since the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) began spreading across the U.S., we have seen how devastating this disease can be in nursing homes.

Alabama health officials have failed to heed the warning. The Jefferson County Health Dept. recently sent a letter to Jefferson County nursing homes endorsing a "non-test-based strategy for discontinuation of transmission-based precautions."

This means that patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 could be readmitted into nursing homes without first testing negative for the virus. Nursing home staff and residents who are infected with COVID-19 could potentially cause a large-scale spread of the disease in Jefferson County facilities.

Attorney Perry Shuttlesworth addressed the issue in a letter to Governor Kay Ivey.

A contradiction of CDC guidelines

While Dr. Mark Wilson of the Jefferson County Health Dept cites recommendations from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the actions outlined in the letter to Jefferson County nursing homes contradicts that.

These are the CDC guidelines for test-based and non-test-based strategies for transmission-based precautions:

  • Test-based strategy includes:
    • Fever resolves without the use of fever-reduction medicine.
    • Respiratory symptoms of COVID-19, such as cough or shortness of breath, improve.
    • Negative test results from an FDA Emergency Use Authorized COVID-19 molecular assay from at least two consecutive nose swab specimens collected 24 hours apart.
  • Non-test-based strategy includes:
    • A minimum of 3 days have passed since fever has resolved without the use of fever-reduction medicine.
    • Three days have passed since respiratory symptoms have improved.
    • At least 7 days have passed since onset symptoms appeared.

According to the CDC, the test-based strategy is recommended for patients with severe illness due to COVID-19 or compromised immune systems. That's because these patients are more likely to be contagious for a longer period of time than patients with mild symptoms.

The non-test-based strategy is only recommended if testing isn't available. The problem with the letter issued by Dr. Wilson is that COVID-19 testing is available in Jefferson County at two locations:

  • UAB Hospital in Birmingham
  • Ross Bridge Medical Center in Hoover.

The dangers posed by the Jefferson County Health Dept's actions

According to the letter, nursing home residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 may return to facilities without the test-based strategy, as long as contact precautions are employed (as outlined in the CDC's Interim Infection Prevention and Control Recommendations for Patients with Suspected or Confirmed Coronavirus Disease 2019 in Healthcare Setting).

Isolating and limiting contact with an infected resident will not prevent the spread of COVID-19 in a nursing home. That's because nursing home staff who will have to work closely with the resident (providing assistance, taking care of hygiene, etc) are at risk of becoming infected and spreading the disease to other residents or staff members.

Attorney Shuttlesworth has represented nursing home neglect victims and their families for nearly four decades. He has have seen how devastating the spread of disease can be in Alabama facilities.

Our law firm doesn't, under any circumstance, endorse the readmission of residents or staff members who have tested positive for COVID-19 without a test-based strategy. Too many lives are at stake.

It is also up to the nursing home staff and management to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. That includes maintaining a clean facility, ensuring the hygiene of each resident and staff member, and take appropriate action in the event that an individual is infected.

If your loved one become ill, sustained an injury, or was otherwise harmed in a nursing home, contact us online or call our Birmingham office at 866-583-1885 to take legal action. Our case evaluations are free and confidential.

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