How to advocate for a relative in a nursing home during the coronavirus pandemic

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How to advocate for a relative in a nursing home during the coronavirus pandemic (Photo: KUTV FILE)

Nate Crippes says the calls haven’t stopped to the Disability Law Center. People have a variety of concerns about loved ones in long-term care facilities.

“The concerns range from you know, I think there’s people testing positive at the facility and you know someone’s not taking proper precautions. I don’t see enough PPE,” he said.

In some cases, residents of nursing homes get moved around because of the virus and family members struggle to get in contact with them.

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“If you have a family member in a facility and no one’s communicating with them and nobody knows what’s going on, that would be highly concerning,” Crippes said.

Accountability may get tricky during the pandemic.

The Utah legislature passed a law during special session the Disability Law Center believes shields long-term care facilities from civil lawsuits connected to COVID. They tried to stop it.

“The legislative council, as well as the legislators themselves, believed it was narrowly tailored and so it only applies in limited circumstances with respect to COVID,” he said.

Crippes believes there are carve-outs for cases of extreme negligence and speaking up remains important.

“I think that’s the most important thing,” he said. “We can’t go into these facilities right now, and so we need to hear it somehow.“

Besides lawyering up, it may also be helpful to enlist a long-term care ombudsman.

Daniel Musto holds the position at the state level, but there are other local ombudsmen to whom you can reach out.

Call 801-538-3910 and ask for your local ombudsman and they’ll direct you to the right person.

“Facilities have a quite a bit more leeway, and residents' rights have kind of been pushed aside a little bit,” Musto said.

But despite that, calls to the ombudsman are down about a third from last year. Limited communication and fewer visitors noticing problems at nursing homes is likely part of that statistic.

The ombudsman’s office also makes regular visits to inspect facilities and those stopped because of the coronavirus.

“The primary complaint or concern that we’re hearing at this time is a lack of communication between the residents and the families,” Musto said. “We can try and work to get these issues resolved.”

Whatever the issue — big or small — Musto said his team can engage the facility and escalate complaints to state regulators should the need arise.

RELATED: What Utahns with loved ones in nursing homes need to know