Risk to Residents
Understaffing and unqualified staffing in nursing homes put elderly residents at risk of neglect and abuse. Understaffing in nursing homes is a common problem but comes with some severe consequences. Typically, nursing home regulations are in place to protect helpless residents from neglect and abuse, however, nursing homes with too few staff or staff that are unqualified frequently receive fines for violating these regulations.
Inadequate nursing home staffing could cause tragedies, including medical errors, deadly falls and bed sores. A caregiver shortage forces staff to prioritize certain duties over others. This often means overlooking responsibilities like preventing infection, controlling accident hazards, maintaining sanitary conditions and improving resident well-being.
Nurse to Resident Ratio
Understaffing in nursing homes reduces the standard of care and puts residents at risk, but studies show that a good ratio of staff to residents increases the quality of care and improves health among residents. Nursing homes are staffed on a ratio of residents to staff. Fewer residents to each staff member prevent the care team from becoming overwhelmed, and because Medicare does not require a minimum resident-to-staff ratio, many nursing homes have too few staff and more residents than they can care for.
Staffing ratios are widely inconsistent from day to day. On short-staffed days, staff often care for twice as many residents as usual. Some studies show that there could be eight residents to each caregiver on their best-staffed day and 18 residents for every caregiver on a worse-staffed day.
When the ratio of residents to staff is off, caregivers are overwhelmed with responsibilities. They scramble to provide medication, meals and care to the residents who depend on them. Many residents need help getting dressed or using the bathroom. Without an aide on hand, these residents are left feeling helpless and neglected. It is the responsibility of the nursing home facility to ensure that nursing home staff ratios are appropriate every day. When nursing staff ratios are too low, it is the responsibility of the facility to fix the issue immediately. When care facilities fail to maintain appropriate ratios, falls and other injuries are suffered by residents of these facilities.
What Causes Understaffing in a Nursing Home
There may be intentional reasons why the owners or management of a nursing facility will understaff their facility. For example, the cost of labor is one of the reasons why owners intentionally understaff their nursing home. Management may skew the numbers in favor of high resident to staff member ratios to continue maximizing profits.
In certain situations, nursing facilities may be having problems finding or hanging onto enough adequately trained nurses and certified nursing assistants who provide all necessary the care to the nursing home residents. A high turnover rate can result in the over-scheduling of available staff members and cause them to become overwhelmed by their duties.
When there is understaffing in nursing homes, essential tasks are neglected, such as adjusting residents to prevent bed sores, checking up on patients and noting changes in health, keeping residents clean to prevent infection, and preventing dangerous falls by helping residents move around.
Staff members end up feeling stressed and upset by their lack of ability to provide quality care to their patients. As a result, they may become bitter, taking out their frustration on residents. This is where physical or verbal abuse can become an issue. When staff face burnout, they quit or move onto higher-paying jobs in hospitals, but the high turnover rate in nursing homes causes a rush to recruit new employees. This constant battle encourages facilities to hire unqualified staff and skip critical training periods.
The Problem of Overtime at a Nursing Facility
Overtime is common among nursing facility staff and can contribute to added stress levels on the part of the remaining staff members who are working longer and longer hours. Overtime is considered to be a benefit by many staff members and nurses, as this will increase their wages when they work overtime hours and can also show that a staff member is loyal to the nursing home and may garner respect from the administrators. However, this can contribute to a dynamic where the staff members feel like they have to work an unreasonable number of hours to gain respect which results in a suffering of patient care.
The Problem with Unqualified Staff
Staff also get burnt out when they don’t have proper training or tools. Unfortunately, nursing homes often fail to screen staff before hiring. Unqualified staff may be hired even if they don’t have the required training or experience.
Untrained staff may have a lack of awareness of nursing home policies, no training for dealing with resident aggression, no understanding the rights of nursing home residents, and an inability to adapt to the shifting needs of residents. Hiring unqualified staff puts residents at risk of all forms of abuse. Without training and experience, staff may unknowingly subject residents to abuse or neglect. For example, elders facing cognitive decline may act violently or aggressively. Care staff that are unfamiliar with this behavior may respond by getting short-tempered and act abusively.
Consequences of Nursing Home Understaffing
There are many negative consequences of understaffing at the nursing home and this can affect the attendance to the nursing home residents’ needs. Staff members may suffer from excessive stress and this will increase the chances of nursing home abuse and neglect. Abuse and neglect become a bigger problem as the resident to staff member ratio increases out of control.
This neglect and abuse on the part of the nursing home staff can cause psychological problems, physical illnesses and even death among the nursing home residents. Understaffing of a nursing facility may add to psychological problems and physical illnesses among the staff members as they experience increased stress.
The trauma of elder abuse may result in health issues like deterioration in health, hospitalization and increased mortality, clinical issues like depression and suicide, social issues like disrupted relationships, and financial loss, all leading to diminished independence and quality of life.
There are many residents living in a nursing facility that suffer from limited ability to ambulate on their own. They are dependent on their caregivers for all of their movement needs, and often also many of their physiological needs. When the nursing home is understaffed, it can be impossible for staff members to turn the patients in bed enough times or to move the residents as often as they need to be moved in order to prevent muscle atrophy and bedsores. This can lead to skin conditions or infections.
The Neglect and Abuse of Resident Needs
The residents are dependent upon the caregivers for their bathing, eating, grooming and medications. If the resident is not groomed or bathed on a regular basis, they can develop sores and infections, especially if the patient is incontinent of stool and urine and needs help getting to the bathroom.
Nurses who are understaffed may have problems feeding and giving medications to all of the residents on a routine schedule. This can lead to malnutrition, deficiencies in nutrition and other complications arising out of not getting their medications on schedule.
Understaffing at the nursing home can also lead to the neglect and abuse of the residents. Abusive nurses indicate that they have stress from issues related to understaffing and they list this as the primary cause of their being abusive to residents. Having limited time to care for each resident can result in the impatience of staff members who may use unnecessary force when helping their residents with their needs.
If you are suspicious that elder abuse many be happening, you may place a report of abuse, neglect or exploitation online or to local law enforcement. You may also call the Statewide Abuse Hotline 1-800-522-3511. If you suspect that someone you love is being abused at their nursing home, you should also call a nursing home lawyer who can help with the investigation and legal process.
Causes of Action for Abuse and Neglect
There are many causes of action that can be brought based on nursing home abuse or neglect; however, the following list includes the most prevalent causes of action. For a complete list of the causes of action that you or your loved one may be entitled to seek compensation, contact us for a free case evaluation with our Fierce Advocates and nursing home plaintiff attorneys.
Physical Abuse: Physical elder abuse is any form of violence or harm that leaves an older person significantly injured. This form of elder abuse may happen regularly or just once, and the resulting injuries may require months of recovery or even contribute to an elder’s death. Sadly, since older people’s bodies are weaker, even a single instance of abuse can lead to long-term health problems or even death. To prevent physical abuse, trusted family members should keep a close watch on their elderly loved ones who receive care from others.
Emotional and Psychological Abuse: Emotional and psychological abuse is harder to recognize than physical abuse, but it is still damaging for the elderly person. Emotional and psychological abuse can sound like blaming, scapegoating, humiliating, ridiculing, terrorizing, intimidating, yelling or demeaning the elder.
Sexual Abuse: Elder sexual abuse includes any sexual contact with an elder who, because of mental illness or dementia, cannot communicate their disapproval of the behavior against them or cannot communicate consent for the activity.
Financial Exploitation: Financial exploitation of an elderly person is a felony, and the punishment of exploiting varies based upon the amount and damage caused by the exploitation. In cases of exploitation up to $100,000, the punishment is up to 10 years in prison and a maximum of $10,000. If a person exploits an amount above $100,000, the punishment is up to 15 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000.
Neglect: Neglect is the failure to fulfill a caretaking obligation. It can be intentional or unintentional, based on factors such as ignorance or denial that an elderly charge needs as much care as they do. Neglect can be physical, emotional, or abandonment.
Signs and Symptoms of Elderly Abuse
It can be difficult for some elderly people to bring attention to the abuses that they are enduring because elderly people may be non-verbal, have extreme memory loss, or be so affected by disease that they are not capable of communicating. For these reasons, it is important to keep an eye out for evidence of abuse, which may look like:
- Physical injuries
- Sores and Wounds
- Untreated Illness
- Unexplained STD
- Poor Hygiene
- Soiled bedding or clothing
- Signs of restraints: ligature marks around wrists, ankles, or chest
- Unexplained Lethargy or Sedatives
- Broken personal items
- Becoming Uncommunicative
- Sudden changes in habit
- Fear of staff members or other residents
Contact – Cannon & Associates: Oklahoma Elder Law Advocates
Experience matters when you or a loved one requires has suffered at the hands of a nursing home or care facility in Oklahoma. It is important to know the Oklahoma nursing home plaintiff’s attorney you hire is dedicated to your cause and versed in all aspects of personal injury and elderly care law in Oklahoma. Cannon & Associates is dedicated to FIERCE ADVOCACY for victims of nursing home abuse and neglect. Contact Cannon & Associates to protect your family and find the correct guardian for you or your loved one in Oklahoma. Complete the CONTACT FORM ON THIS PAGE NOW or CALL at 405-657-2323 for a free confidential case evaluation.