Nursing home understaffing may be one of the biggest contributing factors to nursing home neglect. Understaffing can also indirectly contribute to nursing home abuse, as overwhelmed staff members and caregivers will be more likely to abuse a patient. Understaffing is dangerous for both staff members and patients, and is increasingly being viewed as a crime.
Nursing Home Understaffing Reasons
Nursing home owners or management may intentionally understaff in order to increase profits. Labor is one of the most costly expenses in a nursing home, so management may dictate unreasonable patient to staff ratios. In some cases, nursing homes may have difficulty finding or retaining enough properly trained nurses to provide adequate care for all residents. High turnover due to unreasonable demands may further increase understaffing issues.
Impact of Overtime
Overtime is very common among nursing home staff, and can contribute to stress levels as staff members work longer hours. Overtime is viewed as a benefit by many nurses and other staff members, as wages will increase for overtime hours. Overtime is also viewed as a way to show loyalty and earn respect from administration, contributing to a dynamic in which staff feels compelled to work an unreasonable number of hours and patient care suffers.
Nursing Home Understaffing Consequences
The consequences of nursing home understaffing are numerous, and may vary according to patient needs. Neglect and abuse become more common as the patient to staff ratio increases. The neglect and abuse suffered by patients can cause physical ailments, psychological disorders, and even death. Nursing home understaffing may also contribute to psychological disorders among staff members, as stress escalates.
Immobile Patient Consequences
Many patients that are housed in nursing homes have limited mobility, and are dependent on caregivers for movement and physiological needs. Understaffing can make it impossible for staff members to turn and move patients as often as necessary to prevent bedsores and muscle atrophy. This can lead to painful skin conditions and infections.
Neglect of Needs
Patients depend on caregivers for food, bathing, medication, and grooming. If a patient is not bathed and groomed regularly, sores and infections can develop, especially if the patient is incontinent or needs assistance to use the bathroom. Understaffed nurses may have difficulty feeding and administering medications to all patients on a regular schedule. This can cause malnutrition, nutritional deficiencies, and many different complications from missed or improperly administered medications.
Abuse of Patients
Nursing home understaffing may also result in patients being physically and emotionally abused. Abusive staff members report stress from understaffing issues as a primary factor in becoming abusive. Having a limited amount of time to care for each patient can also cause staff members to become impatient and use unnecessary force when caring for patients.
Prevalence of Nursing Home Understaffing
Reports indicate that as many as 95 percent of the nursing homes in America may be understaffed. Different states may have varying definitions of proper staffing levels for nursing homes, and may also specify certification requirements. Florida requires that there be at least one licensed nurse per 40 residents, and that each resident receive approximately 3.6 hours of direct care per day. This information must also be available to the facility residents and the public.
Preventing Nursing Home Understaffing
Nursing home understaffing is a societal problem that may benefit from increasingly strict laws and penalties, as well as increased public awareness. Many nursing homes have been held accountable for understaffing issues in recent years through fines and lawsuits. While this may temporarily halt some nursing homes from practicing unethical hiring and staffing, there is much to be done to rectify the problem.
Handling Understaffing Consequences
Nursing homes have paid out millions of dollars in recent years to patients that have suffered wrongful death and illness as a result of nursing home understaffing. An attorney may be able to provide advice and assistance in cases where nursing home understaffing is suspected or has been proven. An attorney may be able to assist victims in taking steps to recover costs associated with intentional understaffing at nursing homes.
Hefner, David. “Understaffed Nursing Homes Affecting Patients.” Journal of the National Medical Association. 94(5).May (2002): 283. Web. 23 Feb. 2014. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2594332/?page=1>.
“The 2013 Florida Statutes.” Online Sunshine. The Florida Legislature, 23 Feb 2014. Web. 23 Feb 2014. <http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String=&URL=0400-0499/0400/Sections/0400.23.html>.