The shortage of health care providers is a serious problem that has plagued nursing homes and long-term care facilities in the United States for decades. Recent studies reveal that understaffing has a significant effect on the quality of care that elderly and disabled patients receive in these facilities and raises the risk of substandard care, neglect, and even abuse.
The Journal of the National Medical Association reports that approximately 90 percent of nursing homes and long-term care facilities throughout the nation suffer from staff shortages. If changes aren't made soon in the industry, the shortages are expected to become even greater.
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Reasons for Shortage of Care ProvidersThere are a number of reasons why there is such a shortage of qualified care providers for elderly and disabled patients in the U.S. Some of them include:
Increasing Demand for Elder CareThe elderly population in the U.S. is growing at a rapid rate and has worse health than previous generations. In 2015 there were approximately 47 million individuals who were are 65 or older. By the year 2030, it is estimated that one in five Americans will be at least 65 years of age. In addition, The United Health Care Foundation reports that the next generation of elderly individuals will likely be much sicker than the last, and will need more specialized care. According to the foundation, it is estimated that 55 percent more elderly individuals will suffer from diabetes and about 25 percent more will be obese. Both of these conditions often lead to serious complications that result in the need for elderly patients to transition into nursing homes.
Cost of Health Care LaborNearly 70 percent of nursing homes in the United States are owned by for-profit organizations whose main focus is to keep revenue high. With the cost of labor for these facilities being very high, even many non-profit homes cannot afford to pay for the number of certified nursing assistants and registered nurses they really need to provide adequate care for elderly and disabled residents.
Lack of Qualified Health Care ProvidersMany nursing homes are unable to find and retain health care providers who are qualified to provide care for elderly patients, especially in rural areas. The highly stressful work environment in these facilities often leads professionals to find work in hospitals, doctors' offices, and other facilities.
How Does Understaffing Raise the Risk of Abuse and Neglect?
The high workloads that result from understaffing in nursing homes and long-term care facilities make it very difficult for professionals to provide residents with the care they need. The frustration, exhaustion, and frenzy that result can lead to neglect, mistakes, abuse, and even death.
In a recent survey, many certified nursing assistants in nursing homes reported caring for roughly 40 patients at once, and 47 percent of nurses said they had missed changes in a patient's condition due to staff shortages. These situations occur most commonly during the 3:00-11:00pm shift. When they do, patients are at a higher risk for missing meals and medications, acquiring bedsores and infections, becoming dehydrated, and falling. Patients who are immobile or those who suffer from dementia are at the highest risk for suffering from nursing home neglect.
Stress and Frustration
Labor shortages in nursing homes mean that many health care providers are forced to work long hours and often extra days in this high-stress environment. Staff members who are overworked are more likely to strike out at patients, often causing emotional or physical abuse. Additionally, overworked care providers are more likely to overmedicate patients who require the most individualized care. In some cases, patients are even given medication that has not been prescribed in order for nurses to sedate them.
There are two main reasons that mistakes occur in short-staffed facilities. First, nursing homes are often in a rush to put new health care providers who lack experience or proper training out on the floor to make up for the shortage of labor. These individuals may not readily recognize the signs of a deteriorating condition or be aware of the proper techniques required to provide individualized care for special-needs patients. As a result, patients can become injured or very sick.
Second, when nurses become overworked, they may pay less attention to detail or become less able to think and respond adequately. This can cause patients to receive the wrong type or amount of medication or treatment. It can also result in the nurse making an incorrect decision when an emergency or unexpected change in condition arises.
The labor shortage in nursing homes can certainly help explain part of the reason that abuse and neglect occur so often, and major changes need to be made in the industry. However, those who abuse or neglect nursing home residents should still be held accountable. A nursing home abuse attorney can help with decisions on how to proceed.