Today’s generation of seniors is increasingly more interested in staying in their own homes and joining the local community center than finding companionship in an assisted living center or residential care facility. However, for many seniors, a life at home is not an option. If your loved one has an extensive list of medical issues, chances are you’ve done the research and legwork involved in choosing the right option for them. The biggest concern typically involves the quality of care. Will s/he receive the attention they need to meet their medical needs? Unfortunately, for many nursing homes around the country, the answer is no, often because of understaffing.
Understaffing in Nursing Homes and Why it’s a Problem
As the population of nursing homes continues to increase, staffing for these homes seems to be decreasing at the same rate. Nurses who are displeased with the working conditions and pay standards of the typical nursing home leave for greener pastures, leaving more and more seniors living in squalid conditions. While the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) have recently attempted to increase the quality of care in nursing homes by changing regulations in the favor of more nurse-hours per resident, these new standards are only recommendations, not backed with any solid requirement for implementation. Without the proper level of staffing, a nursing home does not have the ability to care for the ailing population, an increasing number of whom have dementia or other degenerative disorders.
The For-Profit Problem In Today’s Nursing Homes
About 70% of nursing homes today run on a for-profit basis. While a large number of for-profit facilities maintain a high level of care, many others are run by unscrupulous administrators who are more interested in their profit margin than providing quality care to their residents. These “leaders” often use the resources provided by Medicare and Medicaid to line their own pockets instead of hiring higher quality nurses (or more of them).
In addition, since Medicare doesn’t set a minimum resident to staff ratio, agencies can get by with hiring fewer employees. They skirt the expectations by hiring a registered nurse to work more hours for the same amount of pay and allow a high turnover rate rather than attempting to fix the problem of understaffing.
The Implications of Understaffing Beyond Simple Shortages
Federal health officials have recently conducted a study into the staffing quality of nursing homes around the country. The study has indicated that more than 50% of the country’s nursing homes fall below the minimum nursing care standards of two hours per day. What does this mean for the hundreds of thousands of seniors who occupy nursing homes across the country? Usually, it amounts to
- a higher prevalence of bedsores from neglect
- higher incidents of resident-on-resident abuse
- higher percentages of depression among resident seniors
- more potential for caretaker abuse that goes unpunished
Understaffing and Your Loved One
If you believe that the nursing home your senior loved one is grossly understaffed, or you notice a lack of quality care when you visit, don’t be afraid to contact your local senior Ombudsman for advice on how to proceed. While your best option may be just to switch nursing homes, you have the power to change the quality of life for many other seniors by alerting your Department of Aging Services to report what is most definitely subpar living conditions.