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Nursing home crisis: Staffing issues put residents at risk

Rearview shot of a senior woman sitting in a wheelchair unattended in a nursing home hallway

As COVID-19 infection rates dwindle, another scourge is threatening the health and safety of people at nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

Staff shortages are leading to increased incidents of nursing home abuse and neglect. The situation is providing a cover for reckless workers under reduced supervision and fostering errors among good, but burned out, employees.

About 94% of nursing home providers say they were understaffed last month, according to a new survey by the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living.

More than 80% of assisted living community providers also say they are running without enough staff.

Health care and elderly advocates say without a full staff, residents and patients will likely suffer.

Why is there a staff shortage at nursing homes?

Staff shortages at nursing homes and extended care facilities (and hospitals, for that matter) have been an ongoing issue that was exacerbated by COVID-19. In 2020 and 2021, people quit working in long-term care centers and nursing homes due to pandemic-related burnout, facility owners say. They also left for better paying, less risky jobs, according to a U.S. PIRG survey.

Before the pandemic, analysts were already ringing the alarm about staffing shortages in elder care. The underlying cause, analysts say, is reduced Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements.

The federal program is not repaying care facilities in full for the work they do with Medicaid patients. The reimbursement rate is about 45% in many states. It is illegal for care centers to turn people on Medicaid away if they have room available.

Meanwhile, about 65% of nursing home residents are supported primarily by Medicaid.

When care facilities are not paid in full for the services they have provided, management often cuts staff to make ends meet.

More room for error

A 2020 university study outlined the effect the shortage is having on patients. Staff reductions in medical care facilities often lead to:

  • Higher morbidity and mortality rates.
  • Medication errors.
  • Decrease patient satisfaction.
  • High turnover rates.
  • Higher readmission to hospital rates.
  • Reduced standards for patient/resident hygiene.
  • Greater risk of physical or sexual abuse.
  • More falls.
  • Disrepair within the facility.

To fix the shortage, many advocates say the U.S. must fully reimburse nursing homes and extended care facilities. At least some of this money should be used to improve the quality of the workforce and hire additional staff.

Types of elder abuse

While staff shortages often lead to worse medical care, elder abuse is not isolated to poor medical care. Other forms of abuse include:

  • Physical abuse that results in bodily injury, discomfort, pain, or impairment.
  • Financial abuse.
  • Sexual abuse, which is the non-consensual sexual contact with an elderly or disabled person or another who is incapable of giving consent.
  • Emotional abuse.
  • Neglect.

In Alabama, about 10% of adults ages 60 and older will experience some form of elder abuse in a given year.

Demand justice for your loved one

Identifying nursing home or long-term care facility abuse can be difficult for victims as well as their loved ones.

The actual abuse is not always obvious and rarely done out in the open. This means you need to be able to spot the signs of abuse. These can include bedsores, urinary tract infections (UTIs), sepsis or harmful infections, medication errors, unexplained bruises, changes in mood, sudden weight loss, and restricted visitation.

Shuttlesworth Law Firm LLC takes nursing home abuse seriously. We work hard for people who have been harmed by abuse or neglect, and we aggressively pursue justice for our clients.

If you believe your loved one is suffering from nursing home abuse in Alabama, contact us right away for a free case consultation.

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