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Nursing Home Neglect Risk Higher With Fewer Staffers

Federal data shows what our nursing home neglect attorneys in Orlando have long known: The majority of nursing homes have fewer care-taking staff and nurses than what they had reported to government regulators. It’s well-established that the fewer individuals on the care-taking staff, the higher the risk the elderly and vulnerable residents will suffer abuse or neglect.

We often have family members who suspect that staffing levels at their loved one’s nursing home were inadequate, but are often not provided with straight answers by the facility. In some cases, they may be flat-out deceived.

Where evidence of inadequate staffing levels exists, it can go a long way in proving negligence. It’s not difficult to understand that when a patient’s needs are significant (as most nursing home residents are), it’s going to take time to adequately meet those needs. When there aren’t enough staffers, day-to-day care can fall by the wayside. This can result in substantial injuries and illnesses, such as pressure ulcers, falls and major dental problems.

Kaiser Health News analyzed staffing level data provided by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, finding that widely varying fluctuations in staffing levels were common, with shortfalls being the worst on weekends. At times when staffing was at its worst, personnel on-duty had nearly twice as many patients as they would when staffing rosters were full, the federal data showed.

Medicare doesn’t set a minimum ratio of staff-to-residents, it does mandate that patients receive at least eight hours of nursing care daily and that there be a licensed nurse on staff at all times. There is evidence that nursing home administrators may have been fudging the staffing numbers reported to the federal government. This new analysis looks at payroll data, which seems to be a much more accurate measure of exactly how many staffers were assigned in a given shift.

Medicare only recently began gathering payroll data from the more than 14,000 nursing homes it oversees nationally, as it was compelled to do under the Affordable Care Act. Previously, Medicare data used to rate each facility’s staffing levels was based solely on unverified reports. This new information reveals many facilities were likely exaggerating (sometimes to a significant degree) how many workers were on staff in an average shift. They also rarely reported drops or fluctuations in staffing, despite times when payroll records clearly show they had a worker shortage (intended or otherwise). Although the new data gives us a better picture of the scope of the issue, the revamped star ratings don’t do much to uncover the rapid levels of people working at a facility from day-to-day.

One resident quoted by the news organization explained that after he suffered a stroke and spent time at a nursing home, he would roam the halls in search of someone who could help him get dressed. It was, he explained, akin to being in a “ghost town.”

It’s estimated nearly 1.5 million people in the U.S. are residing in skilled nursing facilities. Anytime nursing homes don’t adequately staff their properties, employees are in a mad-dash to get residents to the bathroom, answer calls for pain, make certain that meals are on-time (and correct), residents have all the correct medication in the correct doses and that all potentially emergent situations are swiftly attended. Our Orlando nursing home attorneys have seen that in many cases, this can result in situations where seemingly simple – but critical – aren’t accomplished. That includes things like routinely repositioning an immobile patient in order to avoid bedsores. That almost inevitably results in avoidable hospitalizations and sometimes serious illness, injury and death.

The reality is no matter how many staff the nursing home schedules on a day-to-day basis, patients still need the same care every single day. They still need to eat, bathe, get dressed, brush their teeth, take their medicine and go to the bathroom – every single day.

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