Nursing Home Understaffing
Nursing homes provide medical care around the clock for chronically ill or seriously injured individuals. Many nursing home residents may be partially or fully immobile, requiring help with even the simplest activities of daily living. A low staff-to-patient ratio in nursing homes allows for better care and supervision of residents. However, nursing home understaffing is an increasing problem for many facilities. Long hours and low pay have caused many caregivers to re-think their career choices. Unfortunately, the most vulnerable members of society suffer as a result. If your loved one suffered any kind of abuse or neglect in a nursing home as a result of nursing home understaffing, contact the compassionate and experienced nursing home attorneys at The Mark Casto Law Firm P.C. at (706) 940-4002 to learn how to receive justice for your elderly family member.
The Widespread Issue of Nursing Home Understaffing
According to the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, nursing homes, assisted living communities, and memory care properties, all types of residential care facilities, experience chronic understaffing. Some nursing homes may have difficulty finding qualified staff, while others struggle to reduce turnover and retain the staff they have. Properly trained nurses and Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) who provide care may be in short supply.
Staffing ratios may vary widely between different shifts or on different days. Some studies indicate that staffing levels can range from 8:1 on a best-staffed day to an overwhelming 18:1 on a short-staffed day. Owners or management may intentionally understaff nursing home facilities. Labor costs are a controllable factor for a nursing home budget and can be one of the simplest to cut when profit margins are small. Medicare, which many nursing home patients rely on to pay some or all of their fees, does not require a minimum staff-to-resident ratio. Therefore, unscrupulous nursing home owners may not have a financial incentive to maintain proper staffing ratios.
The Importance of Nurse-to-Patient Ratios
Low nurse-to-resident ratios in nursing homes ensure a standard quality of care and reduce the risk of injury to residents. Fewer residents per staff member mean that nurses and CNAs are not overwhelmed and have the time to thoroughly check for bedsores, ensure proper nutrition, and note other potential health problems.
- Nursing homes also provide help with personal care for residents, including:
- Toileting or changing diapers
- Mobility assistance, including lifts and transfers
- Eating, feeding tube care, and ensuring proper hydration
- Bathing, grooming, and getting dressed
Without a nurse or CNA on hand to help with these activities, some residents may attempt to take care of themselves, leading to falls or other injuries. Bedbound patients can develop bedsores if they do not change positions regularly. According to the Mayo Clinic, bedsores that are left unattended can easily become infected and can have serious health consequences. Checking for these sores may be a duty that is missed during short-staffed days. Proper staffing ratios ensure that each resident has plenty of care and attention. Lifts and transfers are easier when more hands are available to help.
Nursing Home Understaffing Leads to Poor Resident Care
In short-staffing situations, employees must take on additional duties, caring for more residents and sometimes working longer hours. Employee burn-out and the stress of pandemic requirements resulted in many nursing homes being unable to fill their employee rosters. Higher turnover rates also mean that employees are training new hires more often, which can be frustrating for many people.
Understaffing in nursing homes can mean that essential tasks are neglected, or residents do not receive enough attention. Common injuries that patients in short-staffed nursing homes receive include:
- Dropped residents, when residents are moved by one staff member instead of the two required
- Falls when residents try to use the bathroom or get out of bed by themselves because no one is available to answer a call
- Infected and painful bedsores because not enough aides are present to turn and move patients
- Medication mismanagement, such as incorrect dosages or skipped medication
Neglect as a Result of Nursing Home Understaffing
Neglect is common in nursing homes with staffing shortages. Many individuals rely on the nurses and CNAs for basic human needs, such as food, water, and access to bathroom facilities. Due to lack of staffing, many nursing home managers stretch the staff they do have as far as they can. Negligence can occur when staff members purposely ignore resident needs or when they simply are so overworked that they do not notice when a resident needs something. Negligence can also include leaving dangerous areas unsecured, such as the pharmacy, kitchen, or chemical storage areas.
Abuse as a Result of Nursing Home Understaffing
Elder abuse is more common in nursing homes with staffing issues. Caregivers may vent their frustration on residents, calling them names, yelling at them, or mocking them. Physical abuse may also occur in short-staffed nursing homes, and any injuries are blamed on a resident trying to move more than they should. Sexual assault is another kind of abuse in nursing homes. With fewer staff members, there are fewer eyes on workers that may have nefarious intentions.
Elderly and infirm nursing home residents may be afraid of certain staff members or may fear retaliation if they try to speak up about their needs. Families of people in nursing homes may notice a change in their behavior which can indicate abuse or neglect or may note that their loved one is poorly groomed, dirty, or has bedsores.
Protecting Your Loved One in an Understaffed Nursing Home
Family members can check a few things when visiting their senior in long-term care. For example, make sure to inspect if fingernails are generally kept short and clean to reduce infection. Longer, dirty fingernails may indicate a lack of care. Bedsores are entirely preventable with proper care, so the presence of pressure ulcers indicates that a resident is not being moved enough. Weight loss, dry skin, and sunken eyes can mean a lack of proper nutrition and hydration.
Contact an Experienced Nursing Home Attorney Today
Simply moving a loved one from an understaffed nursing home to a better facility may not be an option for many families. Some may rely on government benefits to pay for their senior's long-term care and have limited options for a nursing home. If you are concerned that your loved one may experience neglect or abuse due to an understaffed nursing home, an attorney specializing in elder law and nursing home abuse may be able to help you file a claim. The damages your loved one receives may help pay for a different facility to have in-home health care. If you suspect nursing home abuse or neglect of your loved one, the Mark Casto Law Firm can help. Call us today at (706) 940-4030 for a free consultation about your case.