A new analysis of data culled from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics paints a bleak picture for the workers we entrust with the care of some of our most vulnerable citizens, and in turn raises questions about how their care might be impacted.
The federal agency’s newest release of non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses reported by private employers indicated approximately 2.9 million workers were injured annually in 2016, which represents a rate of 2.9 cases for every 100 full-time employers. State-operated nursing and residential care facilities had a rate of workplace injuries and illnesses that, on average, was about 13.7 cases per 100 full-time workers. That’s an increase from 12 per 100 just a year earlier. Privately-owned skilled nursing facilities, meanwhile, as well as those operated by local governments reported injury rates that were 6.5 and 6.1, respectively. In total, skilled nursing facilities in all three categories reported nearly 260,000 work-related injuries and illnesses that year, with nearly 112,000 of those workers requiring days away from work, job transfers or job restrictions on the kind of work they could do. This reflects research released in 2012 by RTI International that 60 percent of nursing assistants in nursing homes incur some type of occupational injuries, ranging from back injuries to black eyes to bites and physical violence.
That raises substantial questions about not only what needs to be done to ensure these workers are healthy, but about the quality of care patients are receiving. For instance, many nursing homes are already understaffed as it is, and the problem is worsening as the population ages. When a worker is forced to take leave or work on restricted duty because of an injury, it means there is even less staff to care for patients’ day-to-day needs.
Additionally, this high injury rate is likely a substantial reason why turnover of staff at nursing homes is so high. Every time another worker leaves, all that training, all that experience goes with them, often to be replaced with greener workers, who may be more prone to mistakes or inadvertent oversight.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer examined the issue, and specifically noted the understaffing problem. In one case highlighted, a 130-pound worker described how she was injured trying to lift a 400-pound man. At the time, there were 40 patients and only four aides on the floor. She fears returning to work will inevitably mean another injury. But one must also consider that when workers are asked to handle this kind of lifting – alone – it’s not only the worker who is placed at risk, but also the patient. (One-in-three nursing home worker injuries were the result of overexertion incidents like this.)
It’s telling that the rate of occupational injury among nursing home staffers is akin to that of construction workers, firefighters and police officers. In a poll conducted by the newspaper of individuals who identified themselves as nursing assistants in skilled living facilities, two-thirds said they had witnessed a colleague hurt on-the-job.
Meanwhile, pay in this field has been trending downward for the last 10 years. Many nursing homes cut wages in the midst of the 2008 recession, and have yet to raise them back to appropriate levels.
In most cases, these injuries – as well as nursing home injuries sustained by patients – are predicated by a shortcoming of the facilities’ policies and procedures. Although workers cannot sue their employer (due to workers’ compensation exclusivity rules), patients who have been injured usually can if there is evidence of negligence.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.
Dangerous profession: nursing home assistants report three times the injuries of other workers, April 10, 2018, By Kimberly Marselas, McKnight News
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