How Nursing Home Understaffing Can Lead to Senior Abuse and Neglect

Posted on Thursday, July 12th, 2018 at 3:25 pm    

There comes a time when most of us need some form of regular medical assistance, whether from friends and family or a senior living facility. For those who need help with activities of daily living (ADLs), a nursing home is often the only option.

Unfortunately, nursing homes also have a reputation for abuse and neglect. Due to understaffing, residents are often abused and neglected by overworked and distracted medical professionals.

Nursing Home Understaffing Statistics

The level of understaffing in nursing homes is astonishing. According to a 2002 New York Times article, the Department of Health and Human Services found that more than 90 percent of nursing homes were insufficiently staffed at the time.1

The situation hasn’t improved much since then. In 2014, the Center for Public Integrity published their findings from a nationwide analysis of nursing home staff. They compared reports of staff numbers on the Medicare.gov Nursing Home Compare website with the costs nursing homes provided to the Medicare program.

The discrepancy between the data sets was enormous. Eighty percent of nursing homes reported more staff on Nursing Home Compare than in their financial documents. In other words, anyone who visited the government website received an overinflated staff estimate when researching their nursing home options.2

Why Nursing Homes Are Understaffed

There are two feasible explanations for nursing home understaffing:

  • Lack of willing nurses in the area
  • Owners deliberately cutting corners to reduce costs and increase profits

Some unsafe nursing homes are truly doing their best to provide for residents but cannot find or retain staff. Since nurses and nursing aides must undergo a significant amount of training, there may be a shortage of qualified professionals in the area.

On top of that, nursing homes are extremely demanding environments. Any one nurse or aide could be responsible for dozens of residents. Many nursing home employees work an overwhelming amount of overtime and end up burning out and quitting, worsening the staff shortage.

However, some nursing home owners have more nefarious motives. They intentionally understaff their facilities to save on skilled labor costs, boosting their own profits at the expense of resident safety and well-being.

Negative Effects of Understaffing Nursing Homes

Residents receive better care when more nurses are on staff. Abuse and neglect are often direct results of understaffing and lead to the following consequences:

  • Falls and injuries
  • Inability to use the restroom in a timely manner
  • Dehydration
  • Malnutrition
  • Inaccurate medication administration
  • Development of bedsores or infections
  • Being berated or forcefully moved by staff
  • Death

Nursing Home Staffing Regulations in Alabama

All nursing homes must abide by state law, and those that accept Medicare and Medicaid funding are also subject to federal regulations. According to the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH), nursing homes in the state must have:

  • A registered nurse who is available eight hours every day of the week
  • A full-time director of nursing who must be a registered nurse and can act as the charge nurse in facilities with up to 60 residents
  • “Sufficient staff” for the amount of residents3,4

Surveyors make unannounced visits to each facility to ensure they are complying with the rules. If a nursing home is understaffed, they may be issued a fine or put on the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) special focus facility list.

Legal Help for Nursing Home and Elder Abuse Victims and Their Families in Alabama

While the staffing shortage in nursing homes is sometimes understandable and not the result of willful negligence, it’s still inexcusable. Many seniors fall victim to abuse and neglect at the hands of their caregivers, which can lead to illness, injury, psychological trauma and even death.

If your loved one has been subject to nursing home abuse or neglect, the injury attorneys at Farris, Riley & Pitt, LLP want to help. We can guide you through the tricky process of settlement negotiation or arbitration and fight for the justice your loved one deserves. Call us at (205) 324-1212 today for your FREE case evaluation.

https://www.nytimes.com/2002/02/18/us/9-of-10-nursing-homes-in-us-lack-adequate-staff-a-government-study-finds.html

https://www.publicintegrity.org/2014/11/12/16246/analysis-shows-widespread-discrepancies-staffing-levels-reported-nursing-homes

http://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/providerstandards/assets/NursingFacilitiesRules.pdf

https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/nursing_home_staffing_standards_in_state_statutes_and_regulations.pdf

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