Nursing home staffers have an important task. When families move their relatives into nursing homes, they often need more care than they can receive at home. Staffers help clothe, feed, and bathe nursing home residents. They ensure residents take their medication, monitor their vital signs, and keep track of treatment plans. The job is rigorous, and staff members must work long shifts — often for little pay. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the staffing problems that plagued other businesses hit the nursing home industry. More than 400,000 workers left the industry because of burnout and job dissatisfaction. Some places are more affected than others — a 2021 study found that Virginia has a poorer staffing ratio than other states. Virginia state legislators recently introduced a bill that would create staffing requirements for certified nursing facilities, but the legislation is in its early stages and may not pass.
In the meantime, nursing home residents nationwide still suffer because of staff shortages. Nearly all nursing homes are experiencing staffing issues — one survey found that 87% of facilities face moderate to high staffing issues. The employees who stick around are more likely to experience burnout, which makes them more likely to neglect nursing home residents and make mistakes like giving a patient the wrong medication. Healthcare staffing shortages are linked to a higher mortality rate, which means that patients are more likely to die when compared to facilities with adequate staffing. It also makes it difficult for patients to receive the individualized care they need. When there aren’t enough workers to provide quality care to residents, everyone suffers. Additionally, staffing shortages often result in high turnover rates, making it harder to retain experienced employees.
The Dangers of Nursing Home Staffing Shortages
When choosing a nursing home for your relative, you hope the staff will attend to their needs. Unfortunately, negligence and abuse are common in nursing homes. More than 40% of nursing home residents say they’ve been abused, and more than 90% say they’ve experienced neglect ––a concerning statistic for those with loved ones in nursing homes. Patient neglect can come in many forms, and it’s often unintentional. Nursing home residents often need help going to the bathroom and feeding themselves. If staff members aren’t available and can’t assist, residents might go hungry or soil themselves.
Other common types of negligence caused by staffing shortages are employees failing to give medication on time and failing to reposition patients, leading to bedsores. Nursing home residents are at high risk for abuse, including financial, sexual, and emotional mistreatment. Abuse can happen anywhere, but an inadequately staffed nursing home is especially at risk. When nursing homes are desperate for help, they sometimes rely on temporary workers who may not be adequately trained or screened. Additionally, employees forced to do overtime are more prone to stress. An exhausted, overworked staff member is more likely to neglect or abuse patients.
Nursing Home Staffing Guidelines
Nursing home staffing mandates are often implemented in hours of direct care rather than a firm staff-to-patient ratio. In Maryland, nursing homes must provide three hours of direct care to residents daily. D.C. has some of the country’s highest nursing staff hours per resident but has been rated poorly for overall nursing home care. If Virginia law HB 1446 passes, it would require nursing homes to provide an average of 3.08 nurse staffing hours per resident daily. In 2022, President Biden announced a sweeping set of reforms to nursing homes, including higher mandated staffing levels nationwide and stronger governmental oversight. The government will enforce these rules over the next few years.
One chief concern is whether nursing homes can afford to increase their staffing numbers. Hundreds of nursing homes have closed since the start of the pandemic because of financial trouble, and many facilities still operational have tight budgets. Because of these monetary constraints, the motivation to hire and retain staff members isn’t always high. But the long-term consequences can be devastating when nursing homes don’t have enough employees.
Nursing homes must keep their residents safe and healthy. When they fail at this task, the people who live at assisted living facilities and nursing homes are the ones who bear the brunt of the decision. If you or your loved one have experienced nursing home neglect due to staff shortages, contact the nursing home abuse lawyers at Paulson & Nace. We advocate for people who have suffered nursing home neglect and abuse and will help you hold the at-fault parties accountable for their behavior. Fill out our online form or call us at (202) 463-1999 for a free consultation to discuss your legal options.
Samantha L. Peters focuses her practice in the areas of medical malpractice, personal injury, wrongful death, and other negligence claims.