Nursing home under-staffing is a major problem that endangers the health and well being of residents. When nursing homes fail to hire and maintain sufficient staff members, the staff who are present are unable to meet the needs of the residents through no fault of their own and must take shortcuts with respect to important aspects of their job. Quite simply, an understaffed nursing home cannot properly care for its residents.
For-profit nursing homes are notorious for under-staffing in order to increase their revenue. Facility owners put administrators under constant pressure to reduce costs so that the facility makes money. One way in which this is accomplished is by cutting nursing staff, frequently RNs who command higher salaries, to the detriment of nursing home residents who depend on their care. In addition, budgets for supplies, resident activities, and other services are reduced.
Residents in understaffed nursing homes may go unattended for extended periods of time. Call bells frequently go unanswered and residents that do not have the ability to press the call bell are left to languish. Understaffed nursing homes put residents at increased risk of danger from conditions like infection and bed sores. For example, if the staff does not have the time to change a resident’s diapers the resident will face the increased risk of urinary tract infections due to sitting in soiled briefs for an extended period of time. Or if the staff does not have time to re-position a bed bound resident pressure sores may develop. In addition to health ramifications, under-staffing also increases the risk of physical, mental and verbal abuse from employees who are stressed or overworked.
A study released by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services reported a direct link between nursing home staffing levels and the quality of care provided by nursing homes. According to the report, quality of care declined once certain staffing thresholds were not met. The study concluded the following:
In 2002, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommended that patients receive a minimum of two hours of care each day from nurses aides. The study found that 54 percent of nursing homes currently fall below the proposed minimum standard, putting residents at risk for a myriad of negligence-related injuries, including medication dosage errors. The report also recommended that patients receive at least 12 minutes of care each day from registered nurses. It is estimated that 31 percent of nursing homes do not meet that standard.
To protect your loved ones from under-staffing, it is important to ask about the facility’s employee to patient ratio and periodically request updates on staffing levels since it is subject to change.
How else can you stop nursing homes from putting profits over quality care? You hit them where it hurts most – the bottom line. Recent jury verdicts have sent a message to nursing homes that under-staffing will not be tolerated and nursing homes will be held accountable for the harm their behavior causes to residents.