It has long been suspected that many nursing homes around the country have been understaffed. However, at the same time nursing homes were reporting that they had adequate staff members to provide the necessary care to all of their residents. New data from Medicare though, shows that has not been true for years.
With nursing homes now being required to report their daily payroll records to Medicare, a requirement outlined by the Affordable Care Act of 2010, it is easy to see just how understaffed nursing homes have been. Prior to this requirement, nursing homes only had to state staffing levels in their own reports, which went unverified. This made it easier to manipulate the numbers, making it look as though they had enough staff when many did not.
Medicare uses this information to provide a five-star rating system on their website so families and residents can determine the quality of a nursing home before a resident moves in. Now, Medicare says they may be changing some of those ratings.
The Beechtree Center for Rehabilitation & Nursing is one such facility. Beechtree regularly received high ratings on Medicare’s website. Through the new payroll data however, it was revealed that Beechtree did not have enough nurses and aids on staff. Some days, the nursing home had just one aide to look after 18 residents. Nursing levels also fell short, even though Medicare requires a registered nurse to be present for eight hours a day, and a licensed nurse available at all times.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, an agency responsible for overseeing nursing home inspections, said it would be lowering the ratings for those nursing homes that did not comply with their standards. One reason a facility may have their ratings lowered is when they have gone longer than seven days without a registered nurse present.
“It is not completely apparent why they would allow a nursing home to go a full seven days or more without a registered nurse, when that goes against their own guidelines for having one available in the facility at all times,” says John Fisher of John H. Fisher, P.C. “While the new system clearly shows how understaffed nursing homes have been, one has to wonder if the measures being taken against those that went against the system are enough.”
Understaffing is a serious issue in nursing homes. When there are not enough people to look after the residents, they suffer. They may not get help they need with personal hygiene, they may not eat as often as they should, or they could be left alone in beds for a long time, developing bed sores which may ultimately require hospitalization.
The newer way of collecting staffing data is a good step towards ensuring these residents are cared for properly, because it is clear the nursing homes have not been making it a priority.