Effects of understaffing nursing homes

Federal and state laws require nursing homes receiving federal funds to develop a plan of care and employ a sufficient staff to provide all of the care within the plan. Due to understaffing, many nursing homes, however, cannot provide all of the care listed on the plan. As a result, residents may not be fed properly, they may not be given sufficient fluids, they may be over- or under-medicated, they may be permitted to develop pressure sores, they may not be taken to the toilet and therefore may be left in bed all day to lay in their own feces and urine, and they may not be cleaned or groomed.

On July 27, 2000, the United States Senate Special Committee on Aging released some startling findings on the problems associated with the understaffing of American nursing homes.

The bottom line was that understaffing is directly linked to poor nursing home care, including an increase in severe bedsores and malnutrition and dehydration. Such incidents of nursing home negligence or abuse have led to increased hospitalization of nursing home residents.

More than one-half (54 percent) of American nursing homes are below the suggested minimum staffing level for nurse’s aides. These workers are the lowest paid and least trained of all nursing home staff, yet they most often are responsible for feeding and bathing nursing home residents. Turnover among nurse’s aides compromises the quality of care found in nursing homes.

In addition, more than one-third of nursing homes fell below the suggested minimum staffing level for registered nurses, which is only 12 minutes per resident per day. Of total licensed staff, nearly one-fourth of all nursing homes fell below the suggested minimum staffing level.

Sources: The United States Senate Special Committee on Aging News Release, July 27, 2000; National Citizens’ Coalition for Nursing Home Reform

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