Nursing home staffing levels disputed

Proper staffing levels protects against Ohio nursing home neglect and abuse. However, new federal data supports suspicions held by families across the country that most nursing homes had lower numbers of nurses and caretakers on staff than they reported to the government.

Kaiser Health News analyzed data from 14,000 nursing homes that had to be submitted under the Affordable Care Act. Earlier Medicare ratings were based on unverified reports from nursing homes and announced inspections.

There were frequent and major variations in daily staffing levels, according to this data. Weekends had even larger staffing shortages. On the worst days, on-duty staff took care of nearly twice as many residents compared to days that facilities were fully staffed.

Under the new system, 70 percent of the nursing homes had lower staffing levels, which was a 12 percent decrease. Nonetheless, one out of eight nursing homes were cited by health inspectors since 2014 for having insufficient nursing staff.

Medicare does not set staffing levels but requires a registered nurse for eight hours each day and a licensed nurse for an entire day. The new data shows that 25 percent of all facilities in this country had no registered nurses at work for at least one day in the last quarter of 2017.

Skilled nursing facilities care for almost 1.4 million residents in this country. Staffing shortages reduce quality of care because nurses and other personnel have difficulties delivering meals, taking bedbound residents to the bathroom and responding to requests for pain medication. The risk of bedsores, and related hospitalizations, increase because staff do not have time to reposition patients and perform other important tasks. Lower staffing also causes health code violations, according to numerous studies.

Staffing shortages during weekends also lowers care. Residents needs such as getting dressed, bathing and eating do not disappear during the weekend but are not being met in many cases.

Low pay, worker burnout and staffing turnover have led to this problem. Nurse assistants earned only $13.23 an hour last year. Nursing homes must compete with better paying employers which include not only hospitals but retailers.

Regardless of these staffing shortages, residents are entitled to a reasonable standard of care. An attorney can help Ohio nursing home residents and their families assure that this right is protected, and legal action is taken for neglect and abuse.

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