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Is the Nurse Shortage Putting Residents at Risk?

Posted On September 04, 2019

A shortage of nurses and understaffing in nursing home facilities are putting residents at risk for increased injuries, neglect, and abuse.

Understaffed Nursing Homes Increase Health Risks

According to the Journal of the National Medical Association, more than 90 percent of U.S. nursing homes are understaffed, creating significant health risks for residents. Studies show that residents who live in facilities with a shortage of nurses and skilled caregivers face a greater risk of physical injuries, neglect of daily care, and physical, mental, and sexual abuse.

When a nursing home is understaffed, nurses do not have adequate time to properly care for each resident, which often leads to medical errors, physical injuries, and death. Residents are put at greater risks for serious falls, bedsores, bacterial infections, pneumonia and respiratory illnesses, malnutrition, and dehydration, as well as various forms of abuse. A nursing home abuse lawyer often sees cases of neglect and abuse in understaffed nursing home facilities.

Elderly residents who are bedridden, in wheelchairs, or have cognitive disorders are at the highest risk for problems. These residents often require around-the-clock care, as well as assistance with daily tasks such as eating and drinking, bathing, dressing and undressing, grooming, and going to the bathroom. A shortage of nurses creates numerous health concerns for residents who need constant care and attention. Immobile residents must be moved and turned in their beds every few hours to prevent bedsores and other dangerous infections which can lead to serious illness and death. Residents who suffer from dementia and Alzheimer’s need constant attention and help with everyday tasks and activities.

Reasons for Understaffing

There are various reasons for nurse shortages and understaffing in nursing homes. One main reason is cost. Nursing home facilities have high labor costs compared to other expenses. Some nursing homes try to cut costs by hiring fewer nurses and caregivers than they actually need. To save money, they try to run the nursing home with inadequate staff.

Overtime, long hours, and low wages are also common reasons for under-staffing in nursing homes. Although some nurses and caregivers may see overtime and long hours as a benefit, others feel overworked, exhausted, and underpaid. Nursing homes that are under-staffed commonly push their existing staff to the brink of exhaustion, often causing nurses and caregivers to make medical errors and poor decisions about residents’ health conditions and care.

In some cases, nursing homes struggle to find and keep qualified, licensed medical professionals. Studies by the Institute of Medicine show that many Registered Nurses (RNs) do not want to work in nursing home facilities because of understaffing, poor working conditions, long hours, lack of quality care, and low wages. Nursing home facilities are a difficult and high-stress environment, and some nurses prefer to work in large hospitals and other types of medical facilities that offer higher salaries.

The high workloads and long hours in understaffed nursing homes make it impossible for nursing staff to provide proper individualized care for residents. As a result, nurses and caregivers make mistakes and residents suffer injuries and neglect. Many residents suffer physical and emotional abuse at the hands of angry, frustrated caregivers who are supposed to take care of them. According to CMS data, facilities that have a shortage of nurses have almost twice the number of reported resident injury cases seen by nursing home abuse lawyers as facilities with adequate staff.

Mandated Nurse-to-Patient Ratios

Many nursing homes and long-term care facilities around the country have a shortage of nurses. In early 2019, Illinois registered nurses began working with state lawmakers to establish mandated minimum nurse-to-patient ratios in Illinois nursing homes, long-term care facilities, and ambulatory surgery centers. The largest union and professional association of registered nurses in the United States, National Nurses United (NNU), supports mandated staffing ratios for nurses in Illinois nursing homes, as well as facilities across the country to improve residents’ health and protect residents’ safety.

Although nurses have been working for better staffing ratios for the last decade, California is currently the only state with mandated nurse-to-patient ratios. Registered nurses in Illinois and other states are currently working with NNU to establish mandated nurse-to-patient staffing ratios. Currently, there is one bill in the House and another bill in the Senate. In Illinois, U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky recently introduced the Nurse Staffing Standards for Hospital Patient Safety and Quality Care Act, which will make mandated nurse-to-patient ratios a requirement for Illinois nursing home facilities.

In 2018, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), updated regulations for nursing home staffing levels and reporting procedures for employee hours. New regulations require all federally-funded nursing homes to have a Registered Nurse (RN) on duty at least seven full days every quarter. If facilities do not comply with these regulations, they receive only a one-star rating out of five stars for patient care.

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