Residents in nursing homes require a high level of care. Unfortunately, many of them don’t get the attention they need due to understaffing, according to new federal data.
A PBS report puts a spotlight on this problem. Staffing fluctuates daily and there are significant shortfalls on the weekends in most nursing homes. On some days, nursing home employees cared for nearly twice as many residents as they did when staffing levels were adequate.
New federal data reveals that most nursing homes were reporting an exaggerated number of nurses and direct care staff to the government. They actually had fewer staff than they claimed.
The impact of inadequate staffing on residents
Inadequate staffing at nursing homes poses a danger to residents who may suffer abuse or neglect. For example, the management may put one person in charge of overseeing feeding for several residents. Studies find that one staff member should be overseeing meals for two or three residents, at most; inadequate staffing can keep residents from getting proper nutrition.
Short-staffing can also lead to higher stress levels for the few employees working in a nursing home, and some of those overstressed caregivers may lash out in acts of abuse. And nursing homes that are desperate to hire and retain staff may skip background checks, hire questionable individuals and sweep allegations of abuse under the rug.
Lack of staff can mean that a resident who needs help getting to a bathroom may soil his or her sheets. Additionally, a resident may not get the medication he or she needs in time. When a facility is inadequately staffed, important tasks such as repositioning residents in bed may get ignored, which can result in bedsores.
The PBS report cited a case of a man who was living in a nursing home after having a stroke. He said he might need help putting on his shirt and then wander through the halls in search of an aide who is not swamped with work. The man added that on the weekends “it’s almost like a ghost town.”
Federal data reveals short-staffing is rampant
Kaiser Health News analyzed the federal data, looking at daily payroll records, according to PBS. Those payroll records revealed problems with the government’s five-star rating system for nursing homes. Staffing levels were often exaggerated, and the government often did not identify the periods of thin staffing.
Medicare, the federal health insurance program, used to rely on data from the nursing homes’ own reports. The facilities could have gamed the system to their advantage. But since the Affordable Care Act of 2010, Medicare has been publishing daily payroll records from over 14,000 nursing homes, which provides a clearer picture of what’s actually happening.
Medicare requires a registered nurse to be on-site at a nursing home for eight hours a day and a licensed nurse to be present at all times. But Medicare- and Medicaid-certified nursing homes do not have to abide by a minimum resident-to-staff ratio. Sadly, vulnerable residents end up paying the price when facilities cut their staff to the bone.
The new federal data about inadequate staffing is without question alarming for anyone whose loved one is being cared for in a nursing home. But there’s a silver lining: the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which oversees nursing home inspections, stated that it “is concerned and taking steps to address fluctuations in staffing levels.” The agency plans to lower ratings for some nursing homes.
If your loved one suffered in a nursing home from abuse or neglect due to inadequate staffing or any other reason, take action today. Contact the Law Office of George S. Johnson today for a free consultation.