One of the most common reasons that seniors sustain serious injuries from nursing home neglect is understaffing. When skilled nursing facilities do not have enough staff members, there are not enough people to provide the necessary care to patients and residents at the facility. Both California state law and federal law require skilled nursing facilities to have a specific staff-to-patient ratio to help ensure that seniors are getting the care they need. However, according to a recent article in The New York Times, many nursing homes across the country have been overstating their staffing numbers in order to be in compliance with state and federal regulations. As a result, patients have been suffering from nursing home abuse and neglect.
Federal Data Shows Inadequate Staffing Levels at Many Nursing Homes
For many years, according to the article, numerous family members of seniors in skilled nursing facilities have worried that staffing levels were insufficient. As it turns out, many of those suspicions and fears have some validity to them. Indeed, “on the worst staffed days at an average facility, the new data show, on-duty personnel cared for nearly twice as many residents as they did when the staffing roster was fullest.” Records also showed that there were significant fluctuations in staffing numbers at many facilities from day to day, with some days having adequate staff while others had grossly inadequate staff on hand to meet the needs of the residents.
Where did this federal data come from? In short, since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, Medicare has been gathering “daily payroll records,” which provide information about the number of staff members at nursing homes each day. The data comes from about 14,000 different nursing homes across the country. Until Kaiser Health News analyzed this data, most information about staffing levels came from “unverified reports” submitted by the nursing homes about their own staffing numbers. This old system made it “possible to game the system,” according to the article.
Indeed, the payroll records depict a much different picture of nursing home staffing levels than the nursing home self-reported data. In particular, most nursing homes experience at least some days where staffing levels are low—to be sure, the data shows that this is common—but many of those facilities report staffing levels from the days on which the ratios are better.
Gaps in Patient Care Could Result in Bedsores and Other Preventable Injuries
Currently, about 1.4 million people reside in skilled nursing facilities across the country and require daily care from staff members. For example, having an insufficient or inadequate number of staff members can mean that “essential tasks such as repositioning a patient to aver bedsores can be overlooked,” while some patients may not receive meals on time or get the help they need to use the bathroom. In situations in which patients need help reaching the bathroom but cannot get through to a staff member, those elderly patients may suffer a preventable fall injury.
One of the key takeaways from the payroll data is that we should not be relying on staffing averages in order to determine whether there is adequate staffing at any given nursing home. Instead, we need to take a closer look at day-to-day data to determine whether a facility is adequately staffed to care for its patients.
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