Why Staffing Issues May Lead to Nursing Home Abuse

Key Points:  

  • When a nursing facility’s management cuts corners by not properly vetting prospective employees, not providing sufficient training for new hires, or not keeping enough employees on staff, unfortunately, it’s often the elderly residents who suffer.
  • Trying to fill positions quickly can result in inadequate or entirely skipped reference and background checks.
  • The new HB 987 bill creates important safeguards for vulnerable nursing home citizens, including substantial fines and staffing minimums.
  • If your loved one was injured or killed due to staffing issues at a care facility, a personal injury attorney can help hold them accountable.

At the core of many nursing home abuse cases are the staff members who are supposed to care for our elderly loved ones.

Whether due to intentional abuse by those not suited to the job or the fact that there are simply not enough staff members for the number of residents in a facility, management is often to blame.

When a facility’s management cuts corners by not properly vetting prospective employees, not providing sufficient training for new hires, or not keeping enough employees on staff to lower costs, unfortunately, it’s often the elderly residents who suffer.      

How High Employee Turnover Leads to Nursing Home Abuse

Any successful businessperson will tell you that high employee turnover leads to problems. Rehiring and retraining are not only expensive but time-consuming as well.

Person holding an elderly persons hand

It takes 90 days at a minimum for a new hire to perform their job adequately. Other human resource experts say becoming efficient at a job takes months or even years.

High turnover rates in a nursing home can mean your loved one is being cared for by newbies who aren’t fully trained or prepared for the job – a recipe for disaster.

Here are several ways staffing issues can lead to mistreatment in nursing home facilities:

  • High employee turnover often results in the need to hire in a hurry. Every time a facility must advertise for help, it has the potential to invite poorly suited people into the mix who lack the skills and patience to deal with the elderly.
  • Trying to fill positions quickly often results in inadequate or entirely skipped reference and background checks. This can invite potential abusers into the facility. Those with criminal histories or backgrounds of abusive behaviors – from sexual abuse to financial exploitation – can slip under the wire when an employer must fill a position in a hurry.
  • New hires are behind the learning curve, meaning they don’t know the residents, their special needs, or their specific medical regimens. Staffing changes can lead to medication errors, malnutrition, or dehydration for the patients.
  • Hurried hiring is almost always followed by inadequate training. A staff member who doesn’t know what is expected is bound to neglect something. Unfortunately, it is the vulnerable residents who suffer from this neglect.

How Staff Shortages Lead to Nursing Home Abuse

Too often, managers and owners of nursing facilities are tempted to work with fewer staff members in an effort to save money and improve profits. This means that even the best-skilled employees may be overworked, making them mentally and physically exhausted.

The following problems can occur due to staffing shortages at nursing facilities:

  • Stress: Exhausted staff can result in short tempers and intolerance toward the citizens. Anxiety among staff translates to stress for residents, which can contribute to or worsen many serious elderly illnesses.
  • Shortcuts: Cutting corners is typically inevitable in situations where there is inadequate staff. Residents are left unsupervised for long periods, which leads to falling accidents or other injuries. For the elderly, these accidents can mean the beginning of a serious decline in health.
  • Lowered standards of care: When staffing shortages are allowed to continue over time, a decline in expectations and performance tends to follow. This deterioration in care becomes more wide-spread as even good employees see that a lower standard seems acceptable to management.

Georgia’s Staffing Requirement for Nursing Homes

 In June 2020, the Georgia State Senate approved a bill that provides additional protection for residents of nursing facilities.

This bill, HB 987, creates important safeguards for vulnerable nursing home citizens, including:

  • Fines: Substantial fines, to the tune of $2,000 per day for each violation, can be levied against facilities that violate the Department of Community Health (DCH) standards. Additionally, the bill imposes a fine of no less than $5,000 for any violation that leads to death or serious physical injury of a resident.
  • Nursing services: HB 987 requires all facilities to include a nurse on-staff who will evaluate each resident’s level of care and medical needs.
  • Additional staffing: The bill provides that nursing homes and assisted living communities with 25 or more beds must maintain a minimum on-site staffing ratio of one direct-care staff member for every 15 residents during waking hours. During non-waking hours, that ratio may be expanded to one staff member for every 20 residents.
    • Personal care homes must provide the services of a licensed pharmacist to perform certain duties.
    • Assisted living communities are required to provide at least two on-site direct care staff members at all times.

This important legislative effort by the State of Georgia should work to decrease the instances of nursing home neglect and abuse. Nonetheless, family members of nursing home residents must remain vigilant to ensure their loved ones are receiving the proper care and attention.

How to Detect If Your Nursing Home Has Staffing Issues

Careful observation while at the facility will usually tell you if a nursing home is experiencing staffing problems.

Here are several signs to watch for:

  • Now hiring: Seeking new staff is not always a sign of trouble, but it could signal issues if it continues for long periods of time.
  • Staff chatter: If staff members often talk about how overworked they are, it could mean that there is not sufficient personnel.
  • Long waits: When a call bell is not answered in a timely manner, it might mean that there isn’t enough help on duty.
  • Too much time in bed – Even in cases where the patient is unable to move about on their own, it’s important they change positions from time to time. Pressure ulcers, also known as bedsores, are a common consequence for patients who are not assisted to sit up in a chair or walk, when possible. If your loved one is always in bed, it may be cause for concern.
  • Unchanging faces – While it can be comforting to see the same faces all the time in a nursing home setting, it can sometimes mean that the care-givers are working too many hours and not getting sufficient down-time to keep them sharp and alert. When in doubt, ask staff members if they are overworked.

Poorly-Paying Jobs Attract Poor-Quality Applicants

Looking after vulnerable, elderly patients should not be an entry-level position for the unskilled, unsuitable, or untrained. Unfortunately, nursing homes pay notoriously low wages for care providers.

In a setting where priorities are appropriate, staff members should be getting fair wages for the hard work they do. Higher pay, good benefits, and flexible hours are excellent ways to minimize employee turnover and ensure quality care.

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Nursing Homes Should Be Held Responsible for Staffing Issues

When nursing home abuse and neglect happens, families often look to lawyers to right the wrongs caused by improperly staffed nursing facilities.

At The Millar Law Firm, we’ve been fighting for the rights of nursing home residents for decades. We specialize in advocating for those who have been hurt or killed because of the negligence or carelessness of others.

If your loved one is suffering because the care facility in which they live is more concerned with profits than their responsibilities to residents, contact us today for a free consultation.

Your loved one deserves the best care. We can help you get it.

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