COVID -19 is Causing Nursing Homes to Evict Vulnerable Residents

July 13, 2020

As the nation continues to try to stem the transmission of the novel coronavirus, a disturbing trend among nursing homes is coming to light. The stress of the pandemic is causing nursing homes to evict some of the most vulnerable people throughout the United States. A New York Times investigative report uncovered data from at least 18 states, suggesting that at least 6,400 individuals have been discharged from nursing homes to make room for COVID-19 patients who bring in more money.

The New York Times spoke with nursing home workers, social workers, and elder law attorneys who verified disabled and elderly residents are being moved to homeless shelters, rundown motels, and other unsafe facilities involuntarily. Nursing homes make more revenue by replacing these residents who are generally covered by Medicaid with sicker patients that are typically covered by Medicare.

Many of these patients are recovering from COVID-19, posing an additional risk to other residents with underlying health issues. This should be concerning to anyone who has a loved one who is living in a nursing home.

Do Nursing Homes Make More Money from COVID-19 Patients?

In fall of 2019, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services revised the formula for reimbursing nursing homes. They made it more profitable for these facilities to take in ill patients who are requiring shorter stays. Hospital officials who spoke with The New York Times confirmed patients with COVID-19 can bring in up to an additional $600 a day in Medicare payments compared to Medicaid patients requiring long-term care.

What is the Law Regarding a Discharge Without Notification?

Federal law requires nursing homes to give 30 days’ notice ahead of evictions. Back in 2017, regulations regarding transfers and evictions were strengthened to protect residents from being kicked out for nonpayment while they were either applying for Medicaid or appealing a denial.

A year later, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced an initiative to prevent illegal evictions. Their memorandum highlights federal laws that protect residents from facility-initiated discharges; exceptions for protection include the following:

  • If the transfer or discharge is in the best interests of the resident, such as the facility being no longer able to meet the needs of the resident.
  • The transfer or discharge is appropriate because the resident’s condition has improved to the point that he or she no longer needs the facility’s services.
  • The resident’s behavior poses a risk to others.
  • The resident’s health is in danger if he or she remains at the facility.
  • The resident has failed to pay for his or her stay.
  • The facility stops operating.

COVID-19 Precautions Allow for Less Scrutiny at Nursing Homes

During the early phase of the coronavirus pandemic, from February to May 2020, nursing homes in New York City tried to send 27 residents to homeless shelters, according to the city’s Department of Homeless Services. While the spread of COVID-19 has undoubtedly increased the rates of illegal discharges from nursing homes, it is far from a new problem. According to the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Programs, in states across the country, discharge or eviction were the most common complaints that they received as far back as 2015.

Additionally, COVID-19 has inevitably led to less nursing home transparency with the public. Without visitors, residents are hidden, and it is harder to hold staff accountable for any negligence that is occurring. Not only does that open the door for illegal evictions for seniors and the disabled receiving Medicaid, it also opens the door for nursing home abuse and neglect. For residents who cannot communicate their experience, this is incredibly concerning.

The intake of COVID-19 patients has left many other residents displaced and even homeless in some situations. At the same time, it also increases the risk of spreading the virus throughout these facilities. In fact, nursing homes in COVID-19 hotspots throughout the country have become epicenters for the spread of the virus due to staff and personal protective equipment shortages, lapses in care, and less oversight overall. Additionally, residents who have potentially been exposed to the virus risk transmitting it to others in the facilities that they are moved to.

How Does an Unplanned Eviction Impact a Nursing Home Resident?

Residents with physical or emotional challenges who end up in unfamiliar or unsafe environments can be extremely traumatized. They are uprooted from the comforts of familiar care and have to sever bonds with staff and peers. Left to survive in dangerous motels and shelters without proper care, they are likely to decline at a steady rate. Many will end up in hospitals indefinitely, or even homeless.

Their families are left to pick up the pieces. Imagine the horror of calling a parent in a nursing home only to find out that he or she has been moved to a homeless shelter.

How Can I Protect a Loved One from an Illegal Eviction?

Unfortunately, many nursing homes are in the business of making money instead of providing quality, compassionate care to seniors and disabled individuals. Since Medicare patients bring bigger payments than lower-income Medicaid patients, these residents are often considered undesirable by unscrupulous facility managers and owners.

So, what can one do to ensure that a loved one remains safely at his or her nursing home? The decisions surrounding how to best care for an elderly or disabled loved one are never easy, and with COVID-19, loved ones have even less access to family members in nursing homes. However, knowing the law can help someone protect his or her loved one from illegal discharge without notification. All legal rights should be provided by the nursing home in writing.

Here is an overview of one’s rights under the law:

  • Some state laws require nursing homes to hold a patient’s bed for a certain amount of time if he or she goes into the hospital.
  • If the patient has Medicaid, the nursing home must readmit the patient after a hospital visit or provide the first available bed after the required bed-hold period has passed.
  • Nursing homes cannot discharge a resident without 30 days’ notice in writing. Only in emergency situations is shorter notice permitted.
  • Nursing homes must inform family members, physicians, and legal representatives if a resident deteriorates in any way or requires a change in treatment.
  • A discharge plan must ensure the resident has a safe facility to go to and includes a plan for the individual’s care.

If a loved one is displaying signs of distress or self-harm at any time, or a person wants to fight a discharge order, contact a trusted elder law attorney as soon as possible. A dedicated elder law attorney can assist his or her client with filing a complaint with the state’s long-term care ombudsman and take any legal action necessary to protect his or her family member.

Long Island Elder Law Lawyers at Korsinsky & Klein, LLP Advocate for At-Risk Seniors in Negligent Nursing Homes

Unfortunately, many families are simply unable to provide the full-time care an older or disabled family member requires. Choosing the right nursing home can be an agonizing decision. One of our Long Island elder law lawyers at Korsinsky & Klein, LLP will ensure that your loved one receives the care that he or she needs and deserves. We advocate for seniors and hold unethical nursing homes accountable for their negligent actions. Call us today at 212-495-8133 or complete our online form for an initial, private consultation. Located in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Lakewood, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout New York and New Jersey.