With just 10 inspectors statewide, Alabama is facing a crisis.
Nursing homes are held to high standards of safety and ethical conduct because they are responsible for some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Those standards are enforced by state inspectors who investigate allegations of safety violations to protect residents' rights and quality of care.
That's how it's supposed to work, anyway, but a new congressional investigation found that the reality is much more grim. Nationwide, there is a shortage of safety inspectors that compromises the ability to investigate complaints. And that problem has reached critical levels here in Alabama, where 80% of inspection staff positions are currently vacant — that's 41 out of 51 positions, leaving just 10 inspectors for the over 200 nursing homes in the state.
With the remaining inspectors stretched so thin, facilities can get away with serious safety violations for months or even years on end. Allegations of nursing home abuse and neglect may go without investigation entirely. This is why residents and their families need to know their rights — and their other legal options.
Weak oversight leads to severe safety issues that go uninvestigated
According to a USA Today article on the congressional investigation, long-term care ombudsmen — watchdogs for residents and their families — are sounding the alarm about serious issues that are not being investigated, including blatant examples of abuse and neglect.
“One ombudsman recalled a nursing home resident who was punched in the face by a worker; however, the state did not investigate the complaint for months,” the report read. “Another ombudsman shared stories of nursing home residents who filed complaints regarding skin breakdown – a serious condition that can lead to infection and death – that was not investigated at all.”
It goes without saying that if even these reactionary investigations are not being conducted, there is little time for proactive investigations; that is, inspections to catch safety concerns before they result in harm to a resident. This creates a dangerous reality for nursing home residents, where the warning signs of abuse and neglect go unaddressed until a resident becomes ill, injured, or even dies, and often not even then.
The root of the problem is lack of funding. Salaries for inspectors are low, and the position is highly demanding. Most inspectors are healthcare professionals who have many other options, especially in the current job market. Legislators at both the state and federal levels need to provide more resources to help enforce nursing home safety laws and regulations; otherwise, no other reform is likely to succeed.
Victims and their families can pursue accountability through the civil justice system
At Shuttlesworth Law Firm LLC, we have seen over and over again the consequences of lax oversight of nursing homes in Alabama, and we hope that legislators will see the need for additional funding to protect residents from abuse and neglect. We also recognize that even when fully funded, state inspectors are only one piece of the puzzle. Their job is to determine whether a violation occurred and enforce consequences on the facility. Our job is to advocate for victims and their families through the civil justice system.
If your loved one was injured or became ill as a result of nursing home abuse or neglect, you have legal recourse, and we would be honored to fight for your family's rights. Schedule your free consultation with our experienced Alabama nursing home neglect attorney today.