Dangerous Understaffing at Nursing Homes: Why Cutting Corners is Deadly

Understaffing at Missouri Nursing Homes Can Result in the Wrongful Death of a Resident: St. Louis Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect Lawyer Gives Details

It is a difficult decision to put a loved one in a Missouri nursing home because it means we are no longer able to provide the type of care and level of attention our loved one needs.  We expect that nursing homes will meet the needs of our loved ones and provide what we simply cannot do at home anymore.  While some facilities are able to effectively – meet the needs of their residents, other nursing homes are cheating us and our loved ones by providing the bare minimum of care—or even below the that standard of care.  This is dangerous to our loved ones and can result in serious personal injury or wrongful death of an innocent resident. What is a major cause of bad care at a nursing home? Insufficient staffing. Many nursing homes just don’t have enough employees to provide the minimum care residents require.

The sad thing is that this is not a secret.  This is a well-known problem.  Analysis of federal data reveals nursing homes have been overstating their staffing levels when reporting their numbers to the federal government.  Why would a nursing home overstate their staffing levels?  They do this to ensure compliance with Affordable Care Act requirements for staffing.  Many nursing homes will actually manipulate their staffing numbers to make the nursing home appear to be in compliance when they are not.  Government research has found that “half of the nursing homes have low staffing and at least a quarter have dangerously low staffing.”  

Our St. Louis nursing home abuse and neglect lawyer knows that this is dangerous because lower staffing means less supervision for residents, less qualified medical staff to render care and treatment to patients, and more opportunities for deviant staff or residents to cause harm to innocent residents such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, financial exploitation, and psychological harm.  Low staffing can easily result in situations that result in the wrongful death of a resident simply because a medical emergency goes unnoticed for too long or there are too few staff members to assist.

Why Does Understaffing Occur in Nursing Homes?

Nursing homes are a business.  Businesses want to maximize their profit. One way to maximize profit is to minimize expenses and staffing is a large expense for nursing homes. In fact,  staffing is a massive cost for nursing homes.  If a facility cuts just one CNA from their schedule they can reap financial benefits when that cost is saved over the course of a year. Similarly, if a nursing home can hire an LPN rather than an RN, they save on expenses because RN’s cost more than LPN’s.  While that strategy improves the financial bottom line, there is no benefit to residents because LPN’s don’t have the training and experience that RN’s do nor can they provide the level of care an RN can.  When a nursing home company cuts staffing, they may improve their profit, but  residents  have to wait longer for care and treatment,  receive less attention, and generally get worse care. Nursing homes regularly push what they can get away with, but that is at the expense of our loved ones.  

Remember it only takes a few minutes for a resident choking to suffer irreparable brain damage or die. If a resident requires two staff members to assist him with a transfer, but there are not enough staff members available so one staff member is forced to do the transfer alone, it only takes a second or two for the resident to fall and suffer a broken hip or head injury. If a staff member is assigned to care for more residents than he or she is supposed to or even capable of, that means your loved one gets half the attention he or she should.  That translates into less care being given, less repositioning of residents who can’t reposition themselves, less hygiene, fewer staff members to help residents with eating or drinking, a longer response time for emergencies like choking which could change an inconvenient and mildly uncomfortable episode into a deadly one and a host of other issues that are detrimental to the care of vulnerable nursing home residents.

Do not let this happen to your loved one.  

Warning Signs of Understaffing at Missouri Nursing Homes

Even though many nursing homes will promise to care for your loved one like they would their own family member, that just simply doesn’t happen in most cases. You need to be the guardian of your loved one to determine whether staffing is adequate.  At first glance, it may appear to be hard to determine whether a Missouri nursing home has staffing issues or pursposefully understaffs the facility because when they are giving tours to family members they will often make it appear like there is sufficient staffing and that they are responsive to their needs.  But do not be tricked.  This is intentional and often done to make you comfortable enough to leave your loved one with them. Once the tour is over, the responsiveness often disappears as does the additional staff.

If you want to learn whether a nursing home is adequately staffed, go back when they aren’t expecting you. Visit early in the morning and late in the evening. Visit on the weekends and pay attention to the staffing levels.  This is what the federal government is going to start doing.  After analyzing the data the federal government determined it was going to targeting nursing homes for understaffing by making surprise visits on the weekends.  While you may not be able to just drop by after hours or on the weekends, if you decide to place your loved one in that facility make it a point to immediately visit one of the first weekends that you can.  You will be able to see the care, treatment, and attention that your loved one is receiving in real time.  If staffing levels are inadequate or you find a “ghost town” like some of the above-referenced studies and reports found, get your loved one out of there.

Another way to assess understaffing is to search for surveys and reports of nursing homes online.  Look to determine whether a nursing home has received citations for understaffing or inadequate staffing levels. Keep in mind though that oftentimes facilities are not specifically cited for understaffing, but if the facility has a large number of citations, you can be fairly certain that the underlying cause for those citations is, in fact, a lack of a sufficient number of staff members and poor training.  Search news articles to see if there has been negative attention to a nursing home, particularly for staffing issues.  Most importantly, search law firm websites and blogs for information on understaffing, survey issues, and dangerous conditions at nursing homes.

Here at the Terry Law Firm, our St. Louis nursing home abuse and neglect lawyer provides blogs, articles, and other resources regarding nursing home citations, surveys, and other pertinent information that residents and their loved one should know about nursing homes. If you are concerned that your loved one has suffered a wrongful death or an injury because a nursing home was not sufficiently staffed, call us by dialing (314) 334-1439 for a FREE consultation to learn whether you or your loved one have may rights for injuries caused by a nursing home’s mistakes.