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Federal Report Shows U.S. Nursing Homes Over-Reported Staffing Numbers

By: Allan M. Siegel

The nursing home selection process can be difficult for families who want to ensure their elderly loved one will receive the support and care they deserve, especially with so many options to choose from. To help these families, the U.S. government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) provides an online tool that rates nursing homes across the country on their abilities to provide care that meets the medical, physical, and emotional needs of residents. Unfortunately, as recently released federal data has revealed, those numbers may not have always been an accurate reflection of what really took place in these facilities.

According to a report from Kaiser Health News, which reviewed federal payroll records Medicare has only recently begun gathering and publishing, U.S. nursing homes may have been capitalizing on Medicare’s system for self-reported and unverified staffing numbers by exaggerating staffing statistics reported to the federal government. Here are few important findings from that review:

  • The data, which consisted of payroll records from over 14,000 nursing homes nationwide, showed that most nursing homes in the U.S. gamed the CMS’ five-star rating system by over-reporting information about staff.
  • According to experts and federal regulators, the numbers reveal significant gaps and lapses in how many employees are actually on duty as compared to the numbers reported by nursing facilities. This is especially true during nights and weekends, even though the needs of residents remain constant throughout the week.
  • Data showed many nursing homes with positive CMS ratings had questionable staff-to-resident ratios. One facility in particular, for example, had a ratio of just one caretaker per every 18 residents during its lowest staffing times.
  • In addition to low staff-to-resident ratios, the data also revealed that there were significant gaps in the numbers of licensed nurses on duty in nursing homes, especially during nights and weekends.

The recent report and revelation have caused ample concern, particularly among U.S. families who have elderly loved ones living in these facilities and those who are just now considering their options. In an effort to change that, CMS has announced that it has revised ratings for nursing homes based on staff, and will utilize the new data it collects from payroll records to verify staffing rates and on-duty nurses.

Nursing Home Injuries: Risks Posed by Inadequate Staffing

Nursing homes owe a “duty of care” to their residents, which means they are legally obligated to take reasonable steps that ensure their health and safety. One of the most effective means for achieving this is by ensuring adequate staffing numbers, for both aides and licensed medical professionals. Unfortunately, as the numbers have recently shown, inadequate staffing may be more common than we think – which is an issue that puts residents at risk of suffering preventable injuries as a result of nursing home abuse and neglect.

Below, we discuss a few reasons why inadequate staffing in nursing homes can pose risks to residents:

  • Neglect – An insufficient number of staff on duty can put residents at risk of preventable harm that arises from neglect. This can include risks involving residents who are unable to obtain the care they need from overburdened workers who must take on additional tasks in the absence of available team members. For example, a lack of staff can lead to malnutrition or dehydration among patients who don’t receive the basic essentials they need on a daily basis, as well as injuries or illnesses like bed sores and infections when staff are unable to provide care that addresses their hygiene, or need for movement and readjustment (when they are bed stricken).
  • Medical Issues – Many residents in nursing homes are in declining states of health, and have unique medical needs that nursing homes are obligated to address as part of their personal care plans. Without enough staff, nursing home caretakers and nurses are less likely to provide the medical care residents need, especially when it comes to remembering and helping residents take needed medications, monitor their health, and obtain other courses of treatment. A lack of staff also make residents more susceptible to injuries and illnesses, as well as a worsening of those injuries when left unaddressed or when treatment is delayed. In some cases, it can also lead to non-professional caretakers administering treatment nurses or doctors should be providing.
  • Medical Emergencies – Insufficient staff also increases risks when it comes to medical emergencies. This is true not only when staff do not find out about emergencies and delay treatment for patients, such as when an unattended resident falls and staff are unaware, but also when there is an insufficient number of nurses or medical professionals on duty to immediately address emergencies effectively.
  • Abuse – While they may not be as direct as risks involving neglect and medical emergencies, risks for physical abuse can also increase as a result of inadequate nursing home staffing. That’s due to overburdened staff being more susceptible to fatigue, stress, and other adverse issues that may cause them to mistreat or abuse residents physically, emotionally, or otherwise. Overworked staff are also less likely to spot warning signs that may indicate a resident is being physically, sexually, or emotionally abused by a fellow staff member or resident.

At Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C., our Washington, DC personal injury lawyers are very familiar with the risks nursing home residents and other individuals face as a result of insufficient staffing – whether that involve too few caretakers or nurses at an assisted living facility or child day care, inadequate security at a public business or nightclub, or not enough safety personnel or lifeguards at places like a public pool or amusement park. Our broad range of experience in these cases may involve unique facts and circumstances that can differ from case to case, but always generally focus on the failures of those in charge to take steps that protect individuals to whom they owe a duty of care.

If you have questions about nursing home injuries and would like to discuss your rights when it comes to pursuing a civil lawsuit over nursing home abuse or neglect, our legal team is here to help. We proudly serve clients throughout the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia, and offer FREE consultations. Contact us today to speak with a member of our team.