The Troubling Connection Between Understaffing in South Carolina Nursing Homes and Neglect/Abuse
Across the U.S., many nursing homes are severely understaffed, thus endangering their residents’ health and welfare. In fact, as many as 95 percent of nursing homes are suffering understaffing problems. Understaffing leads to increased neglect that can include higher incidences of malnutrition and dehydration, life-threatening infections, serious bedsores, abnormal weight loss, as well as outright physical and emotional abuse.
Current statistics of elderly nursing home resident abuse are staggering and tragic. While there are two million cases of reported elder abuse, many experts believe this figure is severely underreported. Thus, the fact remains that nearly one in ten elderly persons will experience some form of elder abuse during their lifetime.
The rising incidence of elder abuse due to understaffing demonstrates a national epidemic of which no state is exempt, including South Carolina.
Statistics and prevalence of nursing home abuse and neglect
According to a 2014 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) report, 54 percent of nursing homes across the country fall below minimum standards. In response, HHS proposed that all patients should receive a minimum of 12 minutes of care from registered nurses daily—something that 31 percent of nursing home facilities do not do—and a minimum of two hours care from nurses’ aides—something 54 percent of nursing homes do not do.
It is critical to address current shortcomings and blatant violations of federal standards. Not only do 40-90 percent of residents of these facilities report having been abused or neglected, over half of elder care facility workers have reported neglecting, verbally abusing, using foul language, or yelling at residents.
Of particular concern is that the elderly population in the U.S. is rising at an unprecedented rate, as are life expectancy rates. At the present time, there are more Americans age 65 and over than at any other time in history. Additionally, and between 2010 and 2030, this population will increase by 75 percent to 69 million. By 2050, approximately 88.5 million people in the U.S. will be 65 or older. Accordingly, the demand for elder care facilities has and will continue to increase, and absent adequate safeguards, the understaffing crisis will undoubtedly worsen.
Federal and state staffing requirements
Federal law dictates that any nursing home that receives Medicare funds must be sufficiently staffed by qualified and competent employees who can assure resident safety as well as maintaining the highest level of physical, mental, and psychosocial well-being of each resident in accordance with their plans of care.
States, however, have their own requirements and legislation. Whereas four states have not changed their nursing home staffing standards in more than four decades, 18 states—including South Carolina—made significant changes to improve their staffing standards since 1990.
In South Carolina specifically, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control sets nursing home standards. These include having an “adequate number of licensed nurses [on duty] to meet the total nursing needs of residents.” As a result of said improvements, in 2014, Families for Better Care ranked South Carolina 14th in terms of nursing home care and gave the state an overall grade of B.
Among the key findings were that South Carolina improved its national ranking from the previous year with deficiency-free state nursing home inspections having risen by ten percent. Additionally, the state had among the lowest number of verified complaints despite its ongoing understaffing issues.
Problems caused by understaffing
As mentioned, inadequate staffing—of licensed and/or non-licensed nursing staff—can create a host of problems for residents. Among these issues include improper hygiene, inadequate nutrition, dehydration, bed sores and muscle atrophy from being left in one position too long, unexplained injuries, the use of chemical restraints, and failure to administer proper medication. All of these problems can result in serious resident harm.
Another problem is that understaffing leads to overworking existing staff which can result in increased stress, frustration, impatience, and agitation—all of which can be improperly directed toward residents. When the resident-to-staff ratio increases, abuse and neglect become more prevalent. Additionally, understaffing contributes to a high turnover rate, hiring unqualified and inexperienced employees, and an overall decrease in the quality of care residents receive. Finally, while there is, indeed, a shortage of qualified nurses, in other cases, nursing homes seek to maximize their profits by cutting their labor costs.
Regardless of how said understaffing occurs, these shortages increase the vulnerability of an already vulnerable population.
Delegation of care
Because many family members don’t have the necessary skills or resources needed to address the needs of their older relatives—especially those who require specialized medical care—the decision to delegate care to a nursing home or skilled nursing facility is becoming more and more common. Of particular importance is that these institutions must create a trusting relationship with the person and his/her family.
Sadly, if that trust is broken and the elderly resident suffers harm, the facility may find itself on the receiving end of a lawsuit. In the most extreme cases, the facility may face both criminal charges and increased civil penalties for violating their duty of care.
If your loved one has suffered neglect or abuse—or, at the very worst, a wrongful death—at a nursing home due to understaffing, a qualified, caring, and experienced attorney can help you get the justice and any compensation your family deserves.
If you have questions about the care your loved one is receiving, please contact Venus Poe today at 864-963-0310 or click here to fill out an online case evaluation form. We have offices in Greenville, South Carolina and Fountain Inn, South Carolina to better serve you. Knowing all of your rights is imperative. There is no obligation or charge for our initial consultation to see if we can help you with your accident case.
The information you obtain in this article is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice.You should not read this article to propose specific action or address specific circumstances, but only to give you a sense of general principles of law. Application of these general principles to particular circumstances must be done by a lawyer who has spoken with you in confidence, learned all relevant information, and explored various options. Before acting on these general principles, you should hire a lawyer licensed to practice law in the jurisdiction in which you may have a case.