Personal Injury Attorney
Nursing home abuse occurs when the staff members of a nursing home (or any other residential care facility) either neglect the needs of a resident or deliberately harm the resident, as a nursing home lawyer can attest. Deliberate mistreatment is more likely to occur when the corporation that owns and manages a facility fails to screen or supervise staff members. Neglect often occurs because corporate owners fail to invest the funds that are required to staff the facility adequately.
The Medicare program rates nursing homes based, in part, on the number of nurses and caretakers they employ. Until recently, Medicare relied on the unverified reports of staff levels that nursing homes were asked to provide. That changed after the Affordable Care Act required nursing homes to furnish payroll records to support their staff level reports.
A recent analysis of payroll records found that most nursing homes have underreported the number of nurses and caretaking staff they have available to care for patients. In other words, they misrepresented their staff levels to the government and to the public. The truth is that many nursing homes do not have enough staff members to provide safe care for residents, and that many corporations that operate nursing homes want to conceal that fact from the public.
Inadequate Nursing Home Staffing
Part of the problem stems from the fact that staff levels vary throughout the week. Nursing homes that claim to be fully staffed might well be understaffed on weekends. According to the analysis, on-duty personnel cared for nearly twice as many residents on the worst-staffed days as they did on days when the staffing roster was at its highest level.
Medicare standards require nursing homes to have a registered nurse on duty for eight hours a day and to have a licensed nurse (either an RN or an LPN) present at all times. Payroll records revealed that some nursing homes went more than a week without having an RN on duty.
Even when nursing homes have a single RN and LPN on duty, however, they often fail to have enough skilled aides working to meet the needs of patients. Most patient contact is handled by nurse’s aides who are typically certified nursing assistants. While no federal standard specifies a minimum CNA-to-patient ratio, some nursing homes expect a single CNA to handle 20 to 25 patients. No experienced healthcare professional seriously believes that such a high staff-to-patient ratio is safe for patients.
Nursing homes and other skilled-care facilities need to have sufficient staff to care for their residents. Staff shortages lead to patient neglect.
Examples of harm caused by neglecting patients include:
- Allowing patients to develop painful bedsores because they are not moved regularly
- Allowing bedsores to become infected and failing to treat infections
- Dropping patients who are lifted by one staff member when two staff members are required to lift the patient safely
- Failing to keep patients properly hydrated
- Failing to assure that patients are fed properly
- Failing to administer medication on time (or at all)
- Keeping inadequate records that lead to administration of the wrong medication or incorrect doses
- Failing to notify doctors of patient illnesses
- Failing to recognize symptoms of serious illnesses
- Failing to help patients use the bathroom
- Failing to keep patients maintain proper hygiene
- Ignoring patients who complain of health problems until the problem turns into a crisis
- Allowing patients’ muscles to atrophy by failing to provide them with necessary exercise
Nursing homes with inadequate staff also tend to have more health and safety violations. A nursing home that isn’t spending the money to hire staff members may be neglecting cleanliness and maintenance, placing patients at risk of acquiring infections or being injured by unsafe property conditions.
Remedies for Abuse
In some cases, patient abuse is deliberate. Frustrated and overworked aides sometimes take out their anger on patients. In addition to physical abuse (such as pinching or slapping the patient), aides sometimes engage in emotional abuse by yelling at or belittling a helpless patient.
Relatives of patients who are being neglected or mistreated can make a complaint with the state’s long-term care ombudsman. Every state has an ombudsman who trains volunteers to act as advocates for patients of residential care facilities.
When a patient has been harmed by abuse or neglect, seeking a legal remedy is often the best way to change the way a nursing home does business. Lawsuits provide victims with compensation while giving nursing homes a strong incentive to improve the quality of their care.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from Butler Law Firm for their insight into nursing home abuse.