Nearly 1.4 million people in the United States are cared for in nursing home facilities, but most nursing homes lack adequate staff to properly care for their residents, according to recent federal data. This can put residents at an increased risk for neglect and nursing home abuse.
In this post, the Madison elder abuse attorneys at Boller & Vaughan discuss understaffing at nursing homes and how understaffing can affect residents’ safety.
Nursing Homes Often Exaggerate Staffing Levels
A PBS report based on Medicare data from more than 14,000 nursing homes nationwide found that nursing homes often exaggerated their staffing levels and rarely identified time periods in which staffing levels were thin.
The data analysis, which was conducted by Kaiser Health News, found “frequent and significant fluctuations in day-to-day staffing.” The report also noted that staff shortfalls were particularly frequent on weekends.
On minimally staffed days at an average care facility, according to the report, on-duty employees cared for nearly twice as many residents as they did on days when a full staff was present. The report suggests that many nursing homes inflated their staffing numbers to adhere to the government’s five-star rating system.
The government was previously relying on nursing homes to report their own staffing levels. But the Affordable Care Act requires Medicare to use payroll records to evaluate staffing levels.
Why are Nursing Homes Understaffed?
There are a number of reasons why nursing homes are inadequately staffed. One is that these care centers often pay nursing staff relatively low wages.
Nursing assistants earned an average of $13.23 an hour in 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Qualified nurses and nursing assistants, according to the PBS report, often seek higher-paying employers such as hospitals.
Low wages often contribute to brief employee tenures and high turnover rates. Nursing home care is also challenging, and its accompanying stresses can be amplified when on-duty personnel are trying to cover for gaps in inadequate staffing.
“They get burned out and they quit,” a man whose mother died in a nursing home told PBS. “It’s been constant turmoil, and it never ends.”
The Dangers of Understaffed Nursing Homes
Understaffing makes it difficult to provide the individualized care and supervision so many nursing home residents require.
Existing nursing home employees often become overwhelmed or exhausted by their workloads, which can make them susceptible to neglecting patients’ needs or making care-based errors, such as over- or under-medicating a patient. Nurses with excessive workloads are more likely miss details specific to a patient’s care—like changes in medication, which can lead to health issues and even death for some patients.
In some cases, staff may become so overtaxed or frustrated that they direct verbal or physical abuse at residents. This is why it’s critical for family members and other loved ones of nursing home residents to be vigilant for signs of nursing home neglect or abuse.
The PBS report notes that there is currently no consensus on optimal staffing levels, and there is no established minimum resident-to-staff ratio. Medicare currently requires the presence of a registered nurse for a minimum of eight hours per day and a licensed nurse on staff at all times.
What if You Suspect Nursing Home Neglect or Abuse?
If you believe a loved one is a victim of neglect or abuse in a Wisconsin nursing home, it’s important to take action as soon as possible.
If you suspect an elderly loved one is in imminent danger, call 911 or local law enforcement. If you believe an elderly individual is a victim of financial exploitation or non-emergency mistreatment, contact your county’s Elder Adults At-Risk Help Line, which is administered by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. You can also contact Wisconsin’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman, which addresses complaints about elder care in centers including nursing homes and community-based residential facilities (CBRFs).
It’s also a good idea to consult with an attorney who has experience in elder abuse cases. A knowledgeable elder abuse lawyer can help ensure that your case is properly investigated and that relevant evidence is preserved. An attorney can also help you and your family pursue compensation for any related damages or losses, such as medical expenses.
Reporting suspected elder neglect or abuse is vital to protecting your loved one and others from further harm. Neglect and abuse in nursing homes is rarely limited to a single individual.
Boller & Vaughan has earned a reputation in Wisconsin and across the country for its advocacy on behalf of nursing home abuse victims. If you believe a loved one is a victim of abuse or neglect in a nursing home or CBRF, please call our Madison office today at 608-268-0268 or contact us online for your free consultation.