Families face a difficult task when deciding whether or not to place their elderly loved ones in a nursing home or assisted living facility, not to mention a challenge in finding the right one. To aid them in this journey, many families will utilize various resources that provide insight into the level of care and support facilities will provide their family member. This may include visits and consultations at the nursing homes themselves, and the use of online tools like Medicare’s five-star nursing home rating system. Unfortunately, as recent federal data indicates, those tools, even when curated by a government agency, may not always provide a full or accurate picture about the quality of care provided at facilities.
According to a recent report from The New York Times, newly acquired federal data has revealed that most American nursing homes over reported staffing levels for years as a way to game Medicare’s five-star system and benefit from higher ratings.
The findings, which came from new payroll data submissions only recently required by Medicare, showed that many U.S. nursing homes had substantial gaps in the numbers of staff and aids on duty, especially during weekends and at night. In fact, some nursing homes had staff-to-resident ratios of 1 for every 18, or even less during their lowest staffing periods, despite having reported higher staffing rates to the U.S. government. The data also revealed significant staffing gaps in the numbers of qualified nurses on duty, which were again often at their lowest during weekends and nights.
How Staffing Problems Pose Risks of Nursing Home Injuries
The new data has made waves throughout the U.S., and has prompted Medicare to reevaluate its rating system and make adjustments based on the new numbers, which had escaped oversight due to the fact that under previous policies, nursing facilities could submit staffing data that was unverified by regulators.
It is also raising awareness about just how important staffing is in nursing homes, especially when it comes to reducing risks of preventable injuries. Below, our legal team at Shrager, Sachs, & Blanco discusses a few ways that staffing problems can pose increased risks of nursing home injuries:
- Neglect-related injuries – Without sufficient staff on duty, there is greater potential for the staff who are working to become overburdened by numerous tasks. These can include tasks such as responding to calls made by residents for assistance with basic needs, such as getting dressed or using the restroom, as well as time-sensitive tasks for checking in on residents, ensuring they have food and water, addressing any medical needs, and more. Unfortunately, that means residents are at risk of suffering harm and injuries that could and should have been prevented if not for neglect and oversight, including dehydration and malnutrition, injuries caused by falls, infections, and worsening of bed sores.
- Medical problems – Many residents in nursing homes and similar facilities have extensive and evolving medical needs. This often means residents require regular check-ins, assistance with daily tasks, and time-sensitive administration of medications or forms of treatment for a given condition. When staff are overburdened and facilities understaffed, there are greater risks that such medical issues will turn into medical problems and preventable injuries, including those caused by medication errors, missed treatment, and more. It may also mean that untrained staff will administer medical care that registered and licensed nurses or medical professionals should provide.
- Emergencies – Inadequate staffing is especially dangerous when it comes to responding appropriately to emergencies. This may include any number of medical emergencies and issues such as falls, assaults between residents, and more. Because time is often of the essence in such situations, a lack of timely response and a lack of appropriate immediate treatment can prove disastrous when emergencies occur.
- Nursing home abuse – Abuse in nursing homes is unfortunately more common than most think, which is why vigilance and adequate staffing are so critical to reducing risks that a resident will become a victim. With insufficient staff, however, overburdened aides or nurses are more likely to become abusers themselves, often as a result of stress, fatigue, and more. They are also less likely to provide the care and monitoring needed to spot warning signs when abuse does occur, whether that involves physical, emotional, financial, or sexual abuse committed against residents by other staff members or by other residents.
Our legal team at Shrager, Sachs, & Blanco regularly features posts on our blog about nursing home abuse and neglect, as well as important issues that affect nursing home residents and their families. In light of the new findings, we want to remind families of the importance of choosing a nursing home facility carefully, and regularly checking in on the health and affairs of a loved one. We also want to remind families that they have legal rights should an elderly family member suffer preventable harm in a nursing home as a result of abuse, neglect, insufficient staffing, medical malpractice, and any other form of negligence.
If you have questions about a potential nursing home injury case, your rights when pursuing the justice and compensation your deserve, and how our award-winning Philadelphia nursing home injury lawyers at Shrager, Sachs, & Blanco can help, contact us for a free and confidential consultation. Our firm proudly serves nursing home residents and families throughout the state of Pennsylvania and beyond.