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Is your loved one's nursing home dangerously understaffed?

Many nursing homes inflated their reporting

It wasn't your imagination that your loved one's nursing home seemed short-staffed. Especially if you visited on a weekend.

New federal data shows that U.S. nursing homes for years have exaggerated the number of nurses and aides. The findings support lawsuits against care facilities for falls, bedsores, malnourishment, abuse and other bad things that happen to elder care residents in understaffed facilities.

Payroll records did not match supposed staff levels

Earlier this year, the government changed the way it tracks staffing levels. Rather than relying on nursing homes' self-reported personnel numbers, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMMS) began checking actual payroll records.

The revised data shows that nursing homes overstated their staffing, namely the number of licensed nurses on duty and the number of health aides providing direct care:

  • About 7 of 10 nursing homes had been exaggerating staff levels for at least the last decade.
  • On average, they numbers were inflated by more than 10 percent.
  • Staffing was dangerously low on weekends, with some aides caring for up to 18 patients each on Saturdays and Sundays
  • In the most egregious cases, there was no registered nurse on duty for many days at a stretch.

Why does it matter if they fibbed about staffing?

One reason that nursing homes overstate staff levels is to get a higher rating on the CMMS five-star rating system. Families use those ratings when choosing a care facility for their loved ones.

But more importantly, patient care is compromised when nursing homes are short-staffed.

  • Bedridden patients can develop bed sores if they are not repositioned ever few hours.
  • Patients are at risk of falling if no one answers the call button.
  • Some patients need assistance with eating and drinking.
  • Patients are more vulnerable to sexual assault and other abuse during staffing lulls.
  • Short-staffed nursing homes tend to have more health code violations.
  • Insufficient staffing perpetuates a cycle of burnout and high turnover.

Be vigilant when you visit your loved one

There may be times when you visit and there is not a staff person in sight, even at the front desk. This may mean everyone is assisting residents. But it can also indicate that the facility is seriously understaffed.

Visit at different times of the week and different hours of the day. If you believe that your loved one is being neglected or mistreated -- especially if their health is declining or they have unexplained injuries -- talk to a lawyer who handles nursing home negligence cases.

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