Nursing homes provide critical services to elderly and disabled residents, which is why families often go to great lengths when looking for and choosing the right facility. Often, they base their decisions on researching publicly available information and other sources for nursing home rankings, including Medicare’s own five-star nursing home rating system. While some online ratings should be taken with a grain of salt, others may appear more reputable and accurate to consumers. Unfortunately, even information and ratings curated through government websites can be incorrect – according to new federal data that’s shining a spotlight on misinformation about staffing at U.S. nursing homes.
According to an article recently published in The New York Times, most nursing homes in the U.S. had fewer aides and nurses on staff than what had been reported to the government. That revelation comes from a new system being used by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid to collect information about daily payroll at nursing homes, and is shining a spotlight on how some of these facilities may have been gaming the system and misleading consumers about the size of their staff for years.
As the article states, data using the new payroll records was analyzed for over 14,000 nursing homes across the country, and showed a clear discrepancy between staffing numbers reported by nursing homes and the true numbers of nurses and caretakers on staff, as well as when they actually worked. In fact, the numbers revealed that most nursing homes not only exaggerated the size of staff, but also rarely reveled periods of thin staffing, such as nights or weekends, when there might be fewer aids and nurses on duty.
As advocates and federal regulators agree, the overstated staffing numbers show that many nursing homes were capitalizing on their previous ability to self-report unverified data about their staff to the government to improve their ratings on Medicare’s website. This in turn would mean that consumers who did rely on that information when choosing a nursing home could have chosen one where there were less staff than they were led to believe, or more volatility and gaps in care when it comes to staff on duty. For example, one nursing home which received positive ratings through the five-star system was found to have had a one-to-eight staff to resident ratio on its best days, and a one-to-eighteen ratio on its worst.
Inadequate Staffing Increases Risks of Nursing Home Injuries
The new data provides an opportunity to more closely evaluate the role of staffing in nursing homes. By law, nursing home and assisted living facilities have legal obligations when it comes to providing acceptable standards of care required by residents, and taking steps to reduce risks of preventable injuries. With insufficient staffing, these risks can be substantially increased, and residents more likely to not receive the care, treatment, and support they deserve.
Here are just a few examples of how inadequate staffing can lead to nursing home residents being harmed:
- Having less staff on duty often means that those who are working must perform additional duties or tasks, splitting their attention between anything from delivering meals to answering the phone to providing essential medical treatment.
- More work can overburden staff, and make them more likely to make mistakes, forget about certain duties, or run out of time to complete all tasks. This can impact residents adversely in a number of ways, including neglecting their basic needs, not repositioning bed-stricken patients to avoid bedsores, or making serious medical errors.
- Overburdened aids and nurses are less likely to notice signs of neglect among residents (including hygiene issues, malnutrition or dehydration, and changes in behavior), as well as signs of abuse between residents and other staff. They may also be more vulnerable to things like stress, fatigue, and other issues which can lead to emotional or verbal abuse.
- Less staff on duty means that there are greater risks when it comes to emergencies and providing immediate help, such as when residents falls or experience a heart attack or other medical emergency.
Medicare doesn’t currently have or enforce rules about minimum numbers of staff or minimum guidelines for staff-to-resident ratios, but it does have laws requiring what types of nurses these facilities need to employ and when they need to be on duty. Still, nursing homes are responsible for employing an adequate number of trained and qualified staff and nurses in order to provide an acceptable level of care and keep patients safe from preventable harm. When they fail to do so and residents are harmed, nursing homes can be held liable for damages through nursing home lawsuits.
Fighting for Victims & Families
At Brown & Barron, LLC, our Baltimore nursing home injury attorneys are committed to fighting on behalf of victims who suffer preventable injuries due to the failures of nursing homes and staff, as well as families who have lost loved ones due to unacceptable errors, neglect, or abuse. If you would like more information about your rights following a nursing home injury you believe could and should have been avoided, please call (410) 698-1717 or contact us online for a free consultation. Our team is available 24/7 to help!