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Understaffing Neglect in US Nursing Homes

When an aging loved one’s care needs no longer allow them to live independently or exceed the level of care family members can give them, the common solution is to place them in a nursing home where family members expect a well-trained staff to care for them and treat them with the compassion and respect for their dignity that they deserve. Sadly, some nursing homes do not live up to expectations and the results can be serious or even deadly for a nursing home resident. 

The rate of neglect and abuse in nursing homes in the United States is distressing.

The most common cause of nursing home neglect is understaffing. Having fewer caregivers than needed for an acceptable standard of care results in overworked and overwhelmed caregivers, less patient monitoring, and decreased care. One of the most egregious results of understaffing and neglect in nursing homes is dehydration and malnutrition which leads to a decline in physical and emotional health and may cause death. Understaffing means residents do not receive the individualized attention and care they need and may suffer from increased illnesses, falls, and abuse. Contacting legal experts like the team at Knapp & Roberts today will get you a free consultation and the assistance you deserve.

Understaffing Neglect in US Nursing Homes

How Common Is Nursing Home Neglect?

A study of 2,000 nursing homes revealed startling statistics on the prevalence of nursing home neglect. The study shows that 90 percent of nursing homes are chronically understaffed. Even more concerning, 95 percent of interviewed nursing home residents stated that they’d suffered neglect or witnessed the neglect of other residents. The study showed that some nursing homes operate with as few as one nurse’s aide per 30 residents when the recommendation is a ratio of 1:3 or no more than 1:6. Staffing shortages became an even greater problem during the COVID-19 pandemic with studies showing residents suffered unprecedented numbers of untreated bedsores, severe weight loss, and dehydration, during a time in which they were restricted from family visitors.

Why Are Nursing Homes Understaffed?

Understaffing in nursing homes has been a growing problem for decades. The majority of facilities struggle to hire trained staff and keep them on the job. Turnover rates in nursing homes are high, resulting in hastily trained new staff members caring for an overwhelming number of patients. According to the Nursing Home Abuse Guide, 90 percent of nursing homes are understaffed. Paying for qualified employees is a nursing home’s greatest expense. Instead of hiring the number of employees they need to provide adequate care, they try to stretch their limited staff by assigning the care of far more patients than they can care for adequately, resulting in tired, overwhelmed caregivers and neglected residents. When caregivers feel overworked and overwhelmed in a high-stress work environment, they leave their positions for other jobs as soon as they become available. Nursing homes are caught in this cycle of losing the employees they have because they cannot afford to hire as many as they need to make the jobs tolerable for their employees.

Why Is Understaffing a Problem in Nursing Homes?

In an understaffed nursing home, there aren’t enough caregivers to give residents adequate care. Residents do not get the attention they need to accomplish necessities like taking in enough fluids and nutrition. Many elderly residents won’t eat a meal placed in front of them without reminders and coaxing, due to cognitive decline and chronic lack of appetite. They may be unable to adequately express their needs to staff members when they feel hungry or thirsty. Overwhelmed staff members may be unavailable to provide a resident’s basic needs such as bringing them water or ensuring they eat their meals.

In understaffed nursing homes, accidents like falls are more likely to occur. Residents may need help with toileting but attempt it themselves when no staff member is available. Understaffing also results in dropped residents when one staff member attempts to transfer a resident from bed to chair when the task requires at least two. 

Hygiene and other basic needs aren’t met or are ignored in understaffed nursing homes resulting in chronic illnesses like infected bedsores, urinary tract infections, and the spread of respiratory illnesses among residents. A survey revealed that 46% of caregivers admit that they’ve missed noticing changes in the condition of their residents due to their excessive workloads. 

Finally, overwhelmed caregivers are more likely to emotionally or physically abuse residents because they are tired, irritable, and stressed. 

How to Identify Nursing Home Neglect in a Loved One

Some signs of elderly neglect are clear, such as lack of proper hygiene, but others may resemble the normal signs of aging, making them difficult to identify. It’s important to look for signs of neglect in a loved one in a nursing home. These include the following: 

  • Weight loss
  • Dry skin and lips
  • Untreated or infected bedsores
  • Poor hygiene conditions
  • Soiled bed linens and unclean room
  • Unsanitary living conditions in common rooms
  • Behavioral changes
  • Depression and withdrawal
  • Loss of mobility
  • Medication errors
  • Frequent falls or unexplained fractures and bruises

Many elderly nursing home residents are cognitively unable to communicate that they’ve experienced neglect. Others remain quiet about their neglect because they don’t want to burden their loved ones or because they fear reprisals from nursing home staff.

Liability in Nursing Home Neglect Cases

Nursing home facilities have a duty of care to ensure that they meet the needs of their residents with care, compassion, and respect for their human dignity. When understaffing and administrative failures result in neglect, an elderly resident may experience a decline in physical and emotional health that leads to detrimental medical conditions, faster cognitive decline, and even death. This is a violation of the nursing home staff’s duty of care and results in economic and non-economic damages to the victims and their loved ones. Nursing home neglect is an actionable case that brings justice and accountability. A successful case also financially compensates elderly victims and their loved ones for medical expenses, pain and suffering, and sometimes for funeral and burial expenses if the neglect resulted in the wrongful death of a nursing home resident. If you need to start a neglect case, contact an experienced nursing home abuse lawyer in Phoenix for a free consultation.

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