Senior citizen woman in wheelchair in a nursing home.

Telehealth and the Future of Long-Term Care

Join us on Wednesday, April 7 for further discussion of these issues during our virtual event, “Triumphs & Tensions of the Telehealth Boom.

By Tara Sklar

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the trend away from providing health care and long-term care in institutional settings in ways not previously imagined; the result of a reckoning with the massacre that disproportionately killed hundreds of thousands of older adults living in nursing homes or similar congregate facilities, along with the staff who cared for them.

Beyond the immediate staffing and infection control issues at hand, this juncture leads to a larger question, in the U.S. and abroad: how can we best care for an older population in the decades — and not just years — ahead?

The major advances and shortfalls that have surfaced during the pandemic around telehealth and its related technologies in digital home health care are essential to this discussion.

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Empty hospital bed.

New Data Reignites Concerns over COVID-19 and Nursing Homes in New York State

By James W. Lytle 

Concerns over New York State’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly with respect to its treatment of nursing homes, have recently re-emerged in light of a new report and court ruling related to the matter.

Almost from the outset of the pandemic, the State faced scrutiny as to whether it was accurately reporting deaths of nursing home patients.

After nursing homes complained in April about the lack of PPE and other resources to combat the pandemic, Governor Andrew Cuomo responded that it was not the state’s responsibility, and asked the Department of Health and the Attorney General to launch investigations into nursing homes’ response to the pandemic.

Nine months later, in late January 2021, the report by New York State Attorney General Letitia James of the nursing home investigation was released.

Among the report’s headlines, the Attorney General’s preliminary analysis found that the Department of Health had undercounted deaths of nursing home residents due to COVID-19 by about 50%, largely because of the failure of the State to count the deaths of those residents who were transferred to hospitals immediately prior to their deaths. No other state excluded patients who had been transferred before death to hospitals from their nursing home fatality reports.

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Senior citizen woman in wheelchair in a nursing home.

COVID-19 and Nursing Homes: The New York State Experience

By James W. Lytle 

While New York State has generally earned high marks for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, nagging questions continue over whether more might have been done to protect patients in nursing homes and other congregate settings — and whether some of the state’s policies even may have made matters worse.

Lessons from the New York State experience may prove helpful to those regions that have displaced New York as the epicenter of the American pandemic, and may help ensure that adequate steps are taken to protect the most frail and vulnerable among us from any resurgence of COVID-19 or from some future disease.

Although New York was among the hardest hit states, with the highest number of deaths thus far (over 32,000, more than twice as many as California), the aggressive steps taken by Governor Andrew Cuomo and his administration have been widely credited with reducing the spread of the disease in the State.

But a key, sustained criticism of the Governor’s handling of the pandemic focuses on the state’s nursing homes.

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Kirkland, WA / USA - circa March 2020: Street view of the Life Care Center of Kirkland building, ground zero of the coronavirus outbreak in Kirkland.

How COVID-19 Could Drive Improvements in Care Facilities (Part II)

By Nicolas Terry, LLM and Tara Sklar, JD, MPH

This post is part II of a two-part series on COVID-19 and care facilities. In the first installment we assessed the centrality of care facilities to the COVID-19 pandemic and outlined the infection risks for residents and workers. In this second installment we will explore how improved regulation and enforcement, combined with liability rules, provide the best path forward to improve an industry that, despite its deficiencies, claims it deserves exceptional immunity.

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Gloved hand holding medical rapid test labeled COVID-19 over sheet of paper listing the test result as negative.

How COVID-19 Could Drive Improvements in Care Facilities (Part I)

By Nicolas Terry, LLM and Tara Sklar, JD, MPH

Introduction

This post is part I of a two-part series on COVID-19 and care facilities. In this first installment we assess the centrality of care facilities to the COVID-19 pandemic and outline the infection risks for residents and workers. In the second installment we will explore how improved regulation and enforcement, combined with liability rules, provide the best path forward to improve an industry that, despite its deficiencies, claims it deserves exceptional immunity.

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Elderly Care in the Age of Machine and Automation

By Aobo Dong

Would you be willing to accept a professional care-giving robot as a replacement to a human companion when your loved ones are far away from you? During last week’s HLS Health Law Workshop, Professor Belinda Bennett provided a great overview on the imminent age of machine and automation and the legal and ethical challenges the new era entails, especially in health care law and bioethics. After discussing three areas of potential health law complications, Professor Bennett argued that the field of health law is undergoing a transition from the “bio” to the “digital” or “auto,” and that instead of playing a catching-up game with rapidly evolving technologies, more focus should be placed on learning from past and existing laws and regulations in order to meet new demands from the “second machine age.” However, I wish to propose a closely-related but alternative paradigm, that is, using the issues raised by new technologies as a vehicle for improving existing laws and reshaping social norms that once made existing laws inadequate or flawed. I will elaborate on my point through the author’s own example of elderly care.

Despite the fact that the author advocates a revisionist approach for thinking about health law and technology, her paradigm is still about laws serving the needs and solving concerns of the tech industry intersected with health care. I wonder whether it would be productive to view the issue from the opposite direction, that is, how could new technologies and the challenges they raise inform us about existing laws (revealing blind spots or providing opportunity to improve unjust/unfair/discriminatory laws). Viewed this way, we could not only strengthen connections between past laws and future technologies, but also be guided by a clearer sense of how future legal reforms and regulations could redress past neglect and meet new challenges. Read More

Loneliness as epidemic

By Wendy S. Salkin

Just a few weeks ago, The New York Times ran an article confirming that, indeed, we are facing an epidemic of loneliness. There is “mounting evidence” that links loneliness to illness, as well as “functional and cognitive decline.” What’s more, loneliness turns out to be a better predictor of early death than obesity.

Neuroscientist John Cacioppo, who has spent much of his career working on loneliness, defines “loneliness” as “perceived social isolation.” Similarly, Masi, et al. (following Russell, et al. 1980) define “loneliness” as “the discrepancy between a person’s desired and actual social relationships.” As Masi, et al., point out, there is a distinction to be made between loneliness, on the one hand, and social isolation, on the other, although the two phenomena may indeed often go together. Whereas social isolation “reflects an objective measure of social interactions and relationships,” loneliness “reflects perceived social isolation or outcast.” Following Peplau & Perlman 1982 and Wheeler, et al. 1983, they go on to point out that “loneliness is more closely associated with the quality than the number of relationships.” (It’s important and timely to note that the 2016 Nobel Laureate in Literature, Bob Dylan, brought out one application of this conceptual distinction in his song, “Marchin’ to the City,” when he sang: “Loneliness got a mind of its own / The more people around the more you feel alone.”)

The health risks posed by loneliness are several and can be severe. Loneliness can contribute to increased risk of coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and stroke. In a 2016 systematic review and meta-analysis in Heart, Valtorta, et al., reported that “poor social relationships were associated with a 29% increase in risk of incident CHD [coronary heart disease] and a 32% increase in risk of stroke.” And in a March 2015 meta-analysis in Perspectives on Psychological Science, Holt-Lunstad, et al., reported that a substantial body of evidence supports the following two claims:

  1. Loneliness puts one at greater risk for premature mortality. In particular, “the increased likelihood of death was 26% for reported loneliness, 29% for social isolation, and 32% for living alone.”
  2. The heightened risk for mortality due to “a lack of social relationships” (whether reported loneliness, social isolation, or living alone) is greater than the risk due to obesity.

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