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With Safety Inspectors Short-Staffed, Georgia Nursing Home Residents are at Risk

Nursing home resident in a wheel chair left alone, facing a closed window in her room.

New congressional report reveals a critical lack of safety inspections.

Nursing homes in Georgia and throughout the nation are held to high legal standards because they are responsible for the safety and well-being of some of our most vulnerable citizens. A key factor in protecting residents is conducting regular safety inspections to prevent nursing home abuse and neglect.

Unfortunately, there are far too few state inspectors to perform this critical service. As USA Today reported, a new congressional investigation found that most states have a backlog of nursing home inspections because they have too few inspectors — meaning important safety concerns are going unexamined for months or even years on end.

Here in Georgia, 45% of nursing home inspector jobs are currently vacant. That means we only have about half the number of inspectors needed for the over 350 skilled nursing facilities in our state.

Lack of funding and staffing shortages lead to serious safety issues in nursing homes.

The congressional investigation also found that turnover among inspectors is high, especially with an increase in retirements driven by the COVID-19 pandemic. That means to the extent inspections are happening at all, they are mostly being conducted by inexperienced inspectors who may overlook more subtle warning signs.

But even in clear-cut examples of abuse and neglect, the resources often just aren't there for investigations to occur. One long-term care ombudsman (a nursing home safety watchdog) told congressional investigators about an incident in which a nursing home worker punched a resident in the face — that's as blatant an example of physical abuse as you can get — and yet the state didn't investigate for months. Another described multiple complaints of severe skin breakdown that went uninvestigated.

As a third ombudsman succinctly put it: "Poor conditions in nursing homes are directly connected to insufficient enforcement capacity.”

With weak government enforcement, the civil justice system is critical for victims and families.

More resources are absolutely needed to thoroughly enforce the safety rules and regulations nursing homes are expected to follow. Both state and federal legislators need to commit more funding so that our state inspectors will not be critically understaffed.

Currently, hiring and retaining inspectors is difficult: salaries are low, working conditions are tough, and would-be inspectors are healthcare professionals like registered nurses who have many other options in the current job market. There is little chance of successfully reforming nursing homes and protecting residents without more funding to hire and retain experienced, effective inspectors.

A nursing home negligence lawyer can help.

At the Law Office of George S. Johnson, we have seen the consequences of poor oversight of nursing homes over and over again. We also recognize that even when properly resourced, state inspectors are only one part of the equation. Their job is to investigate violations and deal with facilities that break the law. Our job is to stand up for victims and their families by demanding financial compensation through the civil justice system.

When we pursue a nursing home abuse and neglect case, we are not only fighting for the individual victim but also for accountability for the nursing home industry. Holding negligent nursing facilities to account will hopefully help to protect other residents from being abused or neglected. If your loved one was injured or became ill in a Georgia nursing home due to abuse or neglect, we would be honored to listen to your story and explain your options. Schedule your free consultation today.

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