A nursing home’s obligation to properly care for its residents can only be adequately met with a sufficient number of staff members. In addition, each of these staff members must have proper training. However, the problem of understaffing in nursing homes around the country would probably shock most people. In an effort to save money and put profits over the residents’ best interests, many elderly care facilities are deliberately understaffing their centers. The obvious result is a deteriorated quality of attention and services received by the residents.
The U.S. Department of Human Services Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) and the Department of Health oversee regulations for nursing homes in most states. One of the requirements is that each nursing home must report to the CMS how many staff hours were devoted to each resident per day. Additionally, nursing homes must report to CMS total staffing numbers and a breakdown listing by nurse categories.
The official Medicare website provides a section where individuals can see and compare information about various nursing home facilities. Ratings of these care centers are shown and are based on the results of inspections, the number of staff members available, any penalties, and the facilities’ performance in certain areas of care. This helpful resource is publicly available and can greatly help family members who are researching potential locations for a loved one to live.
One important point to remember is this: even though an elderly care facility claims to have a certain number of staff members, this does not mean that a sufficient number of them are working at all times. Additionally, if a sufficient number is working, this does not mean that all of them are adequately trained in providing the particular type of care that each individual resident requires. Therefore, having a large staff does not necessarily equate to an appropriately staffed nursing home.
Staff Shortage Consequences
The impact upon the lives of senior adults when an elderly care facility is understaffed can mean the difference between life and death. For some residents, even short-term inadequate care can have a seriously detrimental impact on their health. Below are some complications that occur in understaffed nursing homes:
- Pressure sores (bedsores) – The positioning of elderly residents must be shifted frequently by staff members to ensure that pressure is relieved on the body parts that contact a bed or chair. If this shifting does not take place in a timely manner, pressure ulcers (bedsores) can develop and easily turn into a dangerous and life-threatening health issue.
- Hygiene failure – When nursing home residents are not properly showered, bathed, or groomed on a regular basis, they can develop infections.
- Wound care – Without proper and timely care of bandages, dressings and open wounds, the health of elderly residents can quickly deteriorate and become septic.
- Urinary tract infections – When nursing home staff fail to adequately provide proper bladder care for senior residents, the result can be painful, devastating urinary tract infections.
- Malnutrition and dehydration – Very common in understaffed situations, malnutrition and dehydration happen when staff do not properly oversee the intake of fluids and nutrition for elderly residents.
- Falls and accidents – Without adequate supervision and care, nursing home residents are at an increased risk of falling or suffering another type of accident or injury.
Why are Nursing Homes Understaffed?
Unfortunately, the dollar gains more attention with some nursing home administrators than the elderly residents do. The profit motive is paramount for some large chains of nursing homes. Recent years have seen explosive expansion as these large companies increase their portfolios. Sadly, an individual nursing home can become nothing but an investment instead of a center where the nation’s elderly can spend their twilight years happily interacting with others in a healthy, caring environment.
Many of the chains that are buying up nursing homes are owned either by private equity companies or shareholders who will never set foot inside any of the facilities. There becomes an overarching pressure within nursing homes to simply focus on the dollar amount of any process in order to continually produce higher and higher earnings. Hence, the cutting back of staff members helps provide one of the quickest, easiest ways to meet this goal.
Federal requirements are not in place regulating how many staff members a nursing home must provide. Each separate facility is assumed to be using professional judgment in determining how many staff members are needed to adequately meet the nursing home’s care requirements.
State Laws Regarding Staffing
There are regulations and laws in some states dictating the level of nursing home staffing required. California’s requirement is that a facility must give each resident 3.5 hours of direct care each day. Previously, this amount was 3.2 hours but was recently raised. Apparently, many facilities in the Golden State did not appreciate the elevated demand, sparking criticism and lobbying across the state.
However, some of the other states are requiring even higher levels of care. For example, Illinois nursing home residents are supposed to be given 3.8 hours per day. Compare that with Georgia, though, which only demands that its elderly nursing home residents get 2.0 hours minimum direct nursing care per day.
With understaffing being a problem of its own, the scatter-shot regulations that exist may do very little to remedy the overall situation. If family members of a nursing home resident believe that their loved one is suffering from the effects of understaffing, they should contact the team at The Eichholz Law Firm to discuss possible legal action against the facility.
Understaffing Prompts Class-Action Lawsuits
As the families of residents have become aware of the egregious issue of understaffing, individual lawsuits have been filed after elderly residents were injured. Now, class-action lawsuits are seeking damages due to understaffing.
A $72 million settlement was reached in 2017 with Golden Living. Also, Skilled Healthcare Group was given a $640 million verdict for understaffing. A judgment of $1.2 million was awarded against Julie and Douglas Mittleider in Georgia.
Contact our nursing home abuse attorneys if your loved one has suffered harm due to an understaffed nursing home facility.