The majority of nursing homes are understaffed. This serious problem has plagued nursing homes for decades — it puts patients in danger and is a major contributor to nursing home neglect. If you or a loved one has been subject to negligence or abuse related to inadequate staffing in nursing homes, you may be entitled to compensation for your damages.
Reasons for Understaffing
Costs are a major contributor to understaffing. Nursing home managers often claim that they have to cut payroll costs so that they can afford the rest of their overhead, but in many cases, this is simply an excuse to safeguard their profit margins. Additionally, due to low wages, nursing homes tend to have difficulties attracting and retaining quality staff members.
Prior to 2010, nursing homes self reported their staffing levels to the government, and typically, their reports were unverified. As of 2010, the Affordable Care Act requires nursing homes to submit payroll records to Medicare. According to some of the payroll records that have been collected, the staff-to-patient ratio at most nursing homes fluctuates regularly from 1:8 to 1:18, or even higher. When patients need a lot of care, one staff member for every 18 people isn’t enough.
Although the government doesn’t require nursing homes to have a certain staff-to-resident ratio, it does require nursing homes to have a registered nurse on hand for at least eight hours a day, seven days a week. In spite of that rule, payroll records from the last quarter of 2017 reveal that a quarter of all facilities did not have any registered nurses working.
Since 2014, health inspectors have cited one in eight nursing homes for having too few nurses on staff. The weekends tend to be the worst — on average, nursing homes have 11% fewer nurses working on the weekends and 8% fewer nursing aides than they do during the week.
Understaffing Consequences to Staff
When a facility doesn’t have enough staff members to take care of its operational needs, the existing staff members face an overabundance of tasks. That creates a stressful environment with employees frequently working long back-to-back shifts without breaks, leading to even more turnover and exacerbating the understaffing problem.
Overwhelmed employees are more likely to make mistakes administering medication, and they tend to skip necessary tasks such as changing bed linens, helping patients with physical therapy, bathing patients, and even feeding patients. Additionally, as the stress mounts, some employees become abusive.
Understaffing Consequences to Patients
The vulnerable patients who live in nursing homes depend on their caregivers for food, medication, bathing, grooming, exercise, and other essentials. If the nursing home is understaffed, the patients face a greater risk of malnutrition, bedsores, dehydration, infection, and pneumonia. Over time, these issues can become worse and worse.
When a facility is understaffed, there aren’t enough caregivers to perform simple tasks such as turning a bed-ridden patient. When these patients aren’t moved regularly, they tend to get painful skin conditions, infections, or bedsores, and they may experience muscle atrophy due to the lack of movement. That, in turn, places even more pressure on the already overwhelmed staff members. If they are not able to give the patient help, the infections and bed sores spread, and the muscular atrophy becomes even more serious.
Similarly, if patients don’t receive their medications due to understaffing, their symptoms can worsen. If they aren’t fed, they are likely to become malnourished and weak. Again, that creates a repetitive cycle that can become nearly impossible to break. Often, when family members come into the nursing home, they end up feeding their loved ones or providing other care that should be provided by the staff at the nursing home.
What to Do When Your Loved One Has Been Affected by Understaffing
If your loved one has been affected by understaffing at their nursing home, they may have suffered from malnutrition, lack of medication, or a variety of other issues, and they may be entitled to compensation for hospitalizations, medical bills, and pain and suffering related to their mistreatment and neglect.
If your loved one died in a nursing home and you believe understaffing may have contributed to their death, your family may also be able to get compensation for your loss — although money can never bring back a loved you, a wrongful death suit can help you to pay for old medical bills and get justice for your loved one.