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“Bring out your dead,” is the way body collectors pushing wooden carts retrieved corpses during the Black Plague of the Dark Ages (1347-1351) when half of Europe died.
Monday, there was a scene in a small New Jersey town reminiscent of those horrible times long ago. Operating on an anonymous tip that there was a body in a shed local police in Andover, New Jersey checked out the 700-bed Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation Center for the long-term care of the elderly and disabled.
The cops found 17 dead old-timers piled up in what’s been described as a “makeshift morgue” inside a small room at the facility, one of the state’s largest.
This grisly scene highlighted 68 recent deaths of residents and nurses at the center, half of which have been linked to the coronavirus pandemic.
Relatives of the residents should have seen this disaster coming. It recently earned a one-star rating from Medicare of “much below average” citing sub-standard staffing levels and problems with sanitation.
But the problem with nursing homes is not limited to facilities run by creepy, profit-hungry owners seeking to squeeze every penny out of Medicare.
LifeCare Center of Kirkland, outside Seattle, the early epicenter of the Corona Virus Pandemic in the United States--linked to at least 37 deaths—earned five stars out of five on its federal rating for overall care last year.
My mom Lily Friedman Rivera was 98 and a half when she died in her sleep at her home in Sarasota, Florida. Her four surviving children had just visited.
The fact I was able to keep her out of a nursing home is one of my proudest achievements. Most families are not as fortunate. The tradition of kids caring for their elderly parents has been replaced by the explosive growth of the nursing home industry.
It grew exponentially with the advent of Medicare in 1965. These facilities, indeed this entire industry was designed to take advantage of this landmark legislation, which with Social Security benefits provides even the poorest elderly and some disabled with the ability to obtain long-term housing and acute care for conditions like Alzheimer’s.
But owners of nursing home facilities often seek to squeeze whatever profit they can out of the enabling public funding. Plagued by staffing shortages and attendants who are often overworked and underpaid, these usually for-profit nursing homes often leave residents vulnerable to abuse and neglect.
In the days before COVID-19, remember St. Rita’s Nursing Home in New Orleans where 35 terrified old-timers drowned in the rising floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina in 2005?
Infectious disease has made nursing home residents sitting ducks. Breathing stale air, constantly rubbing elbows with other sick old-timers, often suffering from diabetes, chronic kidney disease and arthritis, the risk of infection is unbound.
Certainly, there are some wonderful nursing homes, manned by attentive, competent staff. But from one star to five, from Andover, New Jersey to Kirkland, Washington, many of these facilities are just too damn big.
You cannot stuff dozens of sick, elderly people into one big building and expect them not to catch everything every other resident of the home has.
Bigger is not better.
As I found in five decades of reporting, care cannot be mass-produced.
Geraldo Rivera currently serves as a roaming correspondent-at-large for Fox News Channel. He joined the network in 2001 as a war correspondent. Read More.