Nursing Home Reform Is Finally a Matter of Federal ConcernOne of the reasons, if not the main reason, we choose to place our loved ones in a nursing home is to provide them the important care that we cannot give them ourselves. Nursing homes offer senior citizens the round-the-clock attention and healthcare they need when they are no longer able to take care of themselves, and families trust that staff run facilities safely and properly.

Our country is currently facing a nursing home staffing crisis, however, and our country’s elderly are suffering. In response, the White House announced earlier this year a series of nursing home reforms with the goal of improving safety and quality of care and ensuring that:

  • “every nursing home provides a sufficient number of staff who are adequately trained to provide high-quality care;
  • poorly performing nursing homes are held accountable for improper and unsafe care and immediately improve their services or are cut off from taxpayer dollars; and
  • the public has better information about nursing home conditions so that they can find the best available options.”

One of the major points of this safety reform plan involves minimum nursing home staffing requirements.

Nursing home staffing versus quality of care

In their announcement, the White House noted that proper staffing is directly related to a nursing home’s quality of care. They state that “Establishing a minimum staffing level ensures that all nursing home residents are provided safe, quality care, and that workers have the support they need to provide high-quality care. Nursing homes will be held accountable if they fail to meet this standard.”

An NPR interview with nursing home staff and residents underscores the need for proper staffing. One geriatric nurse describes her daily routine as almost an “assembly line,” with up to 13 residents in her care. By the time she finishes providing care to the last patient, she has to start all over again with the first patient, preventing her from spending any meaningful time with any of them.

One patient in nursing home care, Maurice Miller, is a quadriplegic who relies on staff to take care of his basic daily needs. However, NPR reports, “Some days, Miller is told there are not enough staff to move him to his wheelchair, even though his doctor says time out of bed helps his blood pressure, his circulation and his mental health.”

According to NPR, the government has not studied minimum staffing requirements for nursing homes in two decades, when they recommended residents should receive about four hours of direct care per day. However, currently, only one place has mandated this guidance (Washington, DC). States that do mandate a minimum staffing institute a lower requirement than four hours.

Although there are already some requirements in place, like having a registered nurse on duty eight hours per day, the language around the 1987 Nursing Home Reform Act is vague and does not specify exact staff per resident ratio hours.

Why is nursing home staffing so low?

The COVID-19 pandemic revealed staffing inadequacies and problems in nursing homes across the country. CNN reports 132,000 residents and 1,900 staff members died during the pandemic as of June last year. However, the pandemic only illustrated what the publication calls a decades-old problem. Charlene Harrington, a former professor at the University of California, points out, “Seventy-five percent of the nursing homes had inadequate staffing before the pandemic started. It’s not surprising that they weren’t able to cope with it.”

Experts point to low pay, demanding work, exhausted and overstressed workers, and the effects of the pandemic for the staffing crisis currently facing the country.

What are the effects of nursing home understaffing?

Understaffing is one of the major causes of nursing home neglect and abuse. This neglect becomes more common as the patient to staff ratio increases. Some of the issues senior citizens can experience when staff do not properly meet their needs can include:

  • Giving patients the wrong medication
  • Bedsores and infections due to neglect
  • Falls from beds or wheelchairs
  • Failure to notice changes in a patient’s condition
  • Physical, sexual, or verbal abuse
  • Deterioration in personal hygiene
  • Malnutrition and/or dehydration
  • Depression from lack of social interaction
  • Wrongful death

When nursing homes and care facilities cannot maintain qualified staff and medical personnel, they may end up hiring unqualified or unvetted caregivers, which can often result in patient abuse and neglect.

If you are looking for a nursing home for your loved one, or are questioning if your loved one’s nursing home is overstaffed, look for some of these warning signs:

  • Do both staff and residents seem exhausted and fatigued?
  • Does the nursing home often feel like a “ghost town”?
  • Do residents appear sad or anxious, or crying out for help?
  • Are residents in clean clothes with clean linens?
  • Is the facility itself clean and well-maintained?
  • Has your loved one complained about being left alone or ignored?

If your loved one has suffered injury, abuse, or neglect in a nursing home, talk to an experienced attorney as soon as possible. At Larson Law Firm, P.C., we have been helping personal injury victims secure compensation for their losses for decades. We understand the sensitive nature of nursing home claims and will treat your case with the compassion your loved one deserves. Everyone has the right to proper care and dignity in nursing home and residential care, and we want to help.

Call us at 701-484-HURT or fill out our contact form today to schedule a free consultation. Our legal team serves clients in Minot, Bismarck, and Fargo, and we fight on behalf of accident victims throughout North Dakota. We handle accident cases on a contingency fee basis.