While Gov. Gina Raimondo was touting how well Rhode Islanders had done during the two-week “pause,” the AARP was painting a more ominous picture, reporting an alarming post-Thanksgiving spike in COVID – 19 cases and deaths at the state’s long-term care facilities.

Additionally, the AARP was urging the governor to rollback an executive order that exempts nursing homes and assistant living facilities from liability for cases arising from the pandemic.

“Some way has to found to make it safer,” said John Martin, Rhode Island AARP associate state director – communications. 

Figures compiled by AARP show more than 10 percent of residents and staff at long-term care facilities have been diagnosed with COVID-19. AARP suggests more diligence, transparency, and responsibility are critical to increasing safety for residents and staff.

The Rhode Island AARP’s most recent, analysis, from Nov. 16 – Dec. 6, showed a dramatic increase in cases among long-term care facility residents and staff, and deaths among residents. The statistics, posted on the organization’s dashboard, showed:

  • 1.7 COVID-19 deaths per 100 residents, more than triple the .48 reported for the previous period, Oct. 19-Nov. 15. 
  • 12 new COVID-19 cases per 100 residents, nearly triple the 4.3 for the previous four weeks.
  • 11.3 new staff COVID-19 cases per 100 staffers, nearly triple the 4.8 for the previous four weeks.

The increases during the three-week period, Martin said, follow “rapid” increases for the period before Nov. 15.

“Public health experts had warned Americans that cases would increase as families traveled and visited each other over Thanksgiving, and the reported numbers have proved these warnings correct,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “The continued increase of community spread is taking a devastating toll on nursing home residents and staff.

” As coronavirus cases continue to surge, and with the holiday season upon us, nursing home residents are in grave danger,” Connell said. “Our state leaders must act now to save lives.”

The AARP has reported that nationally, the rate of nursing home resident deaths, cases and staff cases have each more than tripled in just seven weeks, with deaths and cases continue to surge.

Martin said AARP is calling on Rhode Island leaders to better protect residents and staff at long-term care facilities from COVID-19 by:

  • Prioritizing regular and ongoing testing and adequate personal protective equipment for residents, staff, inspectors, and visitors.
  • Improving public reporting of cases and deaths in facilities; communication with families about discharges and transfers; and accountability for state and federal funding that goes to facilities.
  • Requiring access to virtual visitation for all residents and ensure access to in-person visitation following federal and state guidelines for safety.
  • Ensuring quality care for residents through adequate staffing, oversight, and access to in-person formal advocates (Ombudsmen).

AARP seeks reversal of executive order shielding long-term care facilities

Meanwhile, Connell has written Gov. Raimondo asking her to rescind an October executive order that grants civil immunity for long-term care facilities, essentially shielding nursing homes and other long-term care facilities from civil suits.

This comes at a time when nationally, Republicans have advocated for similar protection for all businesses against COVID-19 related lawsuits, while Democrats, Raimondo’s party, have advocated against such provisions.

“AARP has long fought for the rights of residents in nursing homes and other residential care facilities and to ensure their health, safety, quality of care, and quality of life,” Connell wrote. “This includes the rights of residents and their families to seek legal redress through the courts to hold facilities accountable when residents are harmed, neglected, or abused.”

Connell said there are nearly 7,600 Rhode Islanders in nursing homes, facilities that she said are facing “unprecedented challenges” during the pandemic, and at a time when more than 1,025 Rhode Island Long-Term Care residents and staff have died, according to the New York Times. That number, Connell said, represents an “unimaginable” 73 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in Rhode Island. “Given the lack of reporting of cases and deaths, as well as testing, we assume this number is a significant undercount.

“… While there may be some circumstances beyond facilities’ control for which they should not be held responsible, it is essential that long-term care providers, as well as health care providers more broadly, remain responsible for any negligent actions to ensure long-term care residents have the same protection and opportunity for redress.”

Connell said with restrictions there are fewer opportunities to observe what’s happening at the facilities. “Most inspections of nursing homes have been suspended, family in-person visits are largely prohibited in limited circumstances, and in-person long-term care Ombudsman visits are similarly restricted.” 

“The lack of oversight is alarming, and requires us to ensure that, when all else fails, residents and their families will still have access to the courts to seek redress.”

Frank Prosnitz

Frank Prosnitz brings to WhatsUpNewp several years in journalism, including 10 as editor of the Providence (RI) Business News and 14 years as a reporter and bureau manager at the Providence (RI) Journal. Prosnitz began his journalism career as a sportswriter at the Asbury Park (NJ) Press, moving to The News Tribune (Woodbridge, NJ), before joining the Providence Journal. Prosnitz hosts the Morning Show on WLBQ radio (Westerly), 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday, and It’s Your Business, also on WBLQ, Monday and Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Prosnitz has twice won Best in Business Awards from the national Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW), twice was named Media Advocate of the Year by the Small Business Administration, won an investigative reporter’s award from the New England Press Association, and newswriting award from the Rhode Island Press Association.