By: Ashley N. Hadler, Attorney
Most nursing homes are operating without enough nursing staff. Staff members will often complain about having, “too many residents and too little time.” Family members visiting their loved ones often experience this first-hand through very slow response times to answer call lights or difficulty finding a nurse or nursing assistant in the facility. Other signs of understaffing include finding a resident in soiled clothing or bedding, with an empty water pitcher, with their call light on, or without routine hygiene tasks completed.
Staffing report change will hold nursing homes more accountable for care
Recently, the way that nursing homes report their staffing levels to the federal government changed. Facilities used to be able to self-report their staffing levels for just a two week period over the course of the year. No data was used to back up or verify the facility’s report. Now, the staffing levels are reported quarterly throughout the year and are based on the payroll at the facility. The government can now verify the staffing based on how many hours nursing staff were paid to work and can determine exactly which days and times the staff was working. The results show that nursing homes have been inflating their staffing numbers significantly for years. This means that residents and families who sensed and or complained of low staffing in nursing homes were justified in their concerns, even if they were told that the facility’s staffing was in compliance with federal regulations. The numbers show staffing for nurses is lower after business hours and on weekends—which is when many falls and other serious injuries occur.
Understaffing puts nursing home patients at risk for injury
If residents aren’t getting the care and treatment they need at a nursing home, understaffing is usually to blame. Individual nurses and certified nursing assistants or “CNAs” may not have the assistance they need to care for the number of residents they are assigned. If the staff isn’t given the support they need things like hygiene tasks, incontinence care, and supervision of residents are often the first to fall through the cracks. Staff members can be put into a position to choose between leaving one resident who requires supervision unattended or answering a bed or chair alarm of another resident to prevent a fall.
When nurses and CNAs are forced to choose between providing necessary services to multiple residents injuries and medical problems occur. Injuries like falls, bedsores or “pressure sores,” dehydration, malnutrition, or infections happen because the facility’s staff is not providing vital care. The New York Times recently featured the stories of several nursing home residents who have been subject to injuries due to understaffing and discussed the flaws of the rating system.
With the new reporting system, the government will have a better indication of the days, times and duration nursing staff is present in the facility. However, there is no substitute for residents’ and families’ personal experiences of staffing levels. If you are or have a loved one in a nursing home, pay attention to the response times to call lights and requests for help. If you become concerned that care and treatment is not being provided in a timely manner, or if you believe your loved one has been injured due to poor staffing practices, contact me. My practice is focused on fighting for victims of nursing home abuse and neglect. I can give you a free consultation and explain your legal rights and options.