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AARP Virginia: Make Long-Term Care Homes Accountable

Asian nurse taking care of mature male patient sitting on wheelchair in hospital. Young woman and old man wearing surgical face mask for protection of covid 19 pandemic. Girl smile to elderly man.

Lori Pastro saw how crucial it was to speak up on behalf of residents when her mother and aunt both ended up in a Fairfax County nursing home.

On several visits she saw her mom’s untouched dinner on a tray out of reach. Once she found her 80-year-old mother with serious congestion and a staff who hadn’t noticed her illness, which turned out to be pneumonia. Her mother, Diane, died a few days later, on Jan. 23, 2020.

Pastro’s experience, similar to that of other families, is why AARP Virginia is making improved care in nursing homes and holding them accountable priorities this year.

Pastro also often visited her beloved aunt, “Zia” Maria Moore, who died in the same Fairfax home after contracting COVID-19 in May.

She recalled several times she urged the staff to respond, from when her mother had sudden spasms to requesting to see her dying aunt through a window.

“I feel so sorry for the other residents who don’t have someone visiting regularly,” said Pastro, 53, a civilian Coast Guard employee from Gainesville.

She arranged two video chats to keep her aunt’s spirits up, but two other times the nursing home staff failed to make them happen.

Pastro noted that the immunity that protects nursing homes from civil lawsuits shields them from accountability. Last year, the General Assembly extended that immunity, when it comes to COVID-19, to assisted living facilities, hospices and home care.

Need for repeal

In the state legislative session that begins Jan. 13, AARP will push for several changes to protect residents of long-term care facilities, including rolling back last year’s extension of immunity.

“We were greatly disheartened that this immunity gained the traction it did, and we will support efforts to repeal it,” said Natalie Snider, advocacy director for AARP Virginia.

During the pandemic family members and independent observers haven’t had access to facilities to keep an eye on the care provided.

But Keith Hare, president of the Virginia Health Care Association, said the immunity doesn’t cover gross negligence or willful misconduct. Facilities were challenged by shortages of personal protective equipment at the beginning of the pandemic.

“These protections are important to providers to enable them to continue to provide the 24-7 services and care that residents need without the threat that they will face litigation,” Hare said.

Almost half of Virginia’s COVID-19 deaths have been related to long-term care facilities, according to the state Department of Health.

Snider said AARP Virginia is tackling a range of issues in long-term facilities.

“We need to look at not only what happened in COVID but what was there before that we need to fix,” she said. “There are long-standing issues COVID has highlighted.”

AARP supports laws to improve care through better staff- to-resident ratios, pay raises for workers and daily COVID-19 testing for employees.

Change would be too late to fill the hole in Pastro’s heart after her double loss. But she thinks about the other residents, too. “I can’t help but wonder if their cries are being answered now.”

Tamara Lytle is a writer living in Vienna, Va.

More on Long-Term Care

Heartbreaking Story of a Nursing Home Coronavirus Death

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