Families face difficult decisions when it comes to choosing a nursing home or facility that will provide care and support for their loved ones. To aid them in the process, families often rely on resources like in-person consultations with nursing home staff, facility tours, online reviews, and online tools, such as the Five-Star Quality Rating System for Medicare and Medicaid centers.

Unfortunately, recent studies show that even government-run rating systems can fall victim to manipulation. These reports show an alarming number of nursing homes in the U.S. over report data about their staff as a tactic to game Medicare’s find-and-compare rating system and earn higher ratings.

The problem stemmed from Medicare’s old data-collection system, now updated after reports of inaccurate data were discovered, which allowed nursing home care providers to submit unverified staffing reports and numbers. The result? Many nursing homes earned top ratings even when they had serious staffing concerns at their facilities.

These problems included a general under reporting of staff, gaps in the numbers of aides available (particularly during night shifts and weekend shifts), and even gaps in the numbers of licensed nurses on duty. In fact, one of the highest rated nursing homes reviewed in the analysis showed that at its lowest staffing points (nights and weekends), the facility had a 20:1 staff to resident ratio.

How Staffing Issues at Nursing Homes Increase Injury Risks

The analysis has prompted great concern among federal regulators, who recently revamped Medicare’s rating system to account for the new federal data. It is also helping the public understand the important role nursing home staff play in the day-to-day lives of residents, and how negligent facilities, which fail to ensure adequate and properly trained staff, can place residents at risk of suffering preventable injuries.

While inadequate staffing can adversely affect the quality of care in nursing homes in many ways, there are several important concerns when it comes to insufficient staffing and nursing home injuries:

  • Neglect – Low staffing rates, including gaps in the number of available staff on duty during nights and weekends, can increase the likelihood of neglect. When there is not enough people, staff may become burdened with numerous tasks, causing them to focus less on the needs of residents, including basic needs for food and water, personal hygiene and repositioning. When neglect persists, residents can suffer serious harm, including infections and bed sores. Unqualified and improperly trained aides are also less likely to address the many needs of elderly residents or provide the level of care they require.
  • Substandard medical care – A lack of staff and a lack of qualified nurses on duty can subject residents to substandard medical care. While nursing homes have an obligation to provide the tailored medical care residents need, overburdened staff may forget essential medical treatment, including medications, repositioning, physical therapy and medical monitoring. Insufficient staffing may also cause untrained aids to administer medical care that should be performed by licensed professionals. In the most serious cases, improperly trained or supervised staff can make mistakes that commonly form the basis of medical malpractice cases, such as medication errors.
  • Delays and emergencies – Nursing home residents are often in vulnerable states of health, making sudden accidents and medical emergencies more likely. Without sufficient or properly trained staff on duty, the risks for delays and errors in addressing an emergency, whether it is a medical emergency, fall, or another accident, can increase significantly.
  • Abuse and exploitation – Overburdened aides and nurses are more likely to suffer from work-related stress, fatigue and other factors that may make them more likely to abuse or mistreat residents physically or emotionally. Additionally, busy staff working to make up for poor staffing rates are less likely to spot potential warning signs of abuse and neglect, whether committed by fellow staff members or residents themselves. Failures to perform background checks, ensure qualifications upon hiring, and appropriately supervising and disciplining staff can also increase risks for abuse and financial exploitation.

Nursing homes owe a duty of care to their residents and are obligated to take steps that ensure their health and safety. Failures to adequately staff a nursing home – whether that means employing the right professionals or employing enough people – constitutes a failure to meet this duty of care, and can put residents at risk of suffering various physical, emotional, and financial losses.

Clark, Fountain, La Vista, Prather & Littky-Rubin is a team of highly respected and nationally recognized West Palm Beach personal injury lawyers, serving residents throughout the entire state of Florida. Over the years, our attorneys have recovered more than a billion dollars in compensation for clients in a range of challenging cases, including those involving neglect and abuse at nursing homes and assisted living facilities. If you have a potential case to discuss, contact us for a free case evaluation.