For decades, the nursing home industry has justified the dangerous understaffing of its facilities by claiming that the issue stems from a shortage of available workers rather than greed. Due to the COVID pandemic, that industry fib might be blossoming into reality. It seems that hundreds of thousands of nursing home workers were forced to find better-paying and less demanding jobs outside the industry, and they are not coming back.
The Pre-Pandemic Staffing “Shortage”
Even before the pandemic, nursing homes across the U.S. were understaffed. There are federal guidelines that require a “sufficient” staffing level, which is dependent on the number of residents in the facility. That requirement calls for a minimum number of nursing personnel of several different types, including registered nurses (RNs), as well as the lesser trained staff, such as certified nurse’s aides (CNAs), who do the bulk of the services for residents at a nursing home. At least 41 states have set stricter minimum staffing ratios to improve upon the federal standard, which has not been updated since 1987.
Regulations do not have much value unless nursing homes face the possibility of serious consequences for non-compliance. Because of lax enforcement and minuscule fines, understaffing remains a chronic problem. State inspections, including those in Maryland, regularly find violations where nursing homes are operating at levels below safe ratios. In many instances, nursing homes are permitted to provide their own staffing reports and timesheets to inspectors without verification or oversight, hinting that the understaffing problem is worse than what has been reported.
Federal health officials are planning to legislate new federal minimum staffing levels in nursing homes in the spring of 2023. The nursing home industry is already complaining that the proposed minimum standards will be too expensive for the industry to bear. That verifies what many experts already knew: that the “shortage” was less a human resources problem than a human greed problem. The nursing homes were running with as few nursing home employees as possible to squeeze out higher profits, despite the extensive data that lower staffing levels result in more injuries and deaths, not to mention resident misery.
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Workers Fled COVID & Found Better Jobs
The nursing home industry might actually have a legitimate worker problem today. According to an analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the nursing home industry in the U.S. has lost 235,000 jobs since the beginning of the pandemic (March 2020).
The pandemic made a bad situation for nursing home workers much, much worse. It was already a low-paying and highly demanding job before COVID. Nursing home workers earn the least amount of pay in all of healthcare. They deal with the demanding daily needs of far too many residents, providing some medical care but also incredibly important help with daily activities, such as dressing, bathing, eating, and other functions. It’s exhausting work, and most receive no benefits, such as vacation or sick leave.
When the pandemic hit, many nursing home workers quit because the nursing homes were hotbeds of COVID outbreaks, and they were afraid to acquire the virus. As the nursing homes were flooded with short-term patients recovering from COVID or other illnesses at overrun hospitals, those that remained in nursing home jobs were asked to pick up all the slack. Many quit out of frustration.
The pay is so low and the work is so demanding, that many nursing home workers found they could get equal pay and less grief in retail jobs, restaurants, and other work. Some found more rewarding careers in other realms of healthcare.
Now that the federal government is gearing up for an improved industry staffing standard at nursing homes, it remains to be seen how the industry will convince people to take these positions that will be necessary for nursing homes to keep their beds open.
What to Do About Bad Nursing Homes
Even with federal and state-level oversight, nursing homes do not have much financial incentive to provide a safe environment for residents. Many nursing homes repeatedly violate government standards, leading to the misery, injury, and even death of residents, yet the fines that are imposed are too low to provide a deterrent. If you or a loved one suspects nursing home negligence, through abuse or neglect, your most effective option is often legal action. At Brown & Barron, we have expertise with nursing home abuse and neglect cases, and we can help get the truth, get justice for your loved one, and send a forceful message to nursing homes that substandard care will not be tolerated. For a free consultation, please call Brown & Barron at (410) 698-1717 or contact us online by clicking here.