Nursing Homes Misrepresent Staffing Levels

A series of reports were published recently, substantiating low levels of care at nursing homes across the United States. An investigation was conducted by the Center for Public Integrity in an effort to quantify the level of care at nursing homes and determine the reason for poor care. Nursing homes are required by state and federal regulations to meet certain minimum levels of staffing in order to meet the needs of their patients. The Center for Public Integrity’s investigation determined that greater than 80% of nursing homes reported staffing levels that were higher than what they really were. The investigation also found that 25% of nursing homes nationwide reported staffing levels that were at least two times as high as their actual levels.

Savannah, Georgia attorney John E. Suthers was one of the first attorneys in the United States to sue a nursing home and hold it accountable for neglecting a resident. “Many of us who represent victims of abuse and neglect by nursing homes have been saying for years that the underlying cause of almost all problems in nursing homes can be traced to staffing. It’s either a case of inadequate staffing or inadequately trained staff or both. The Center’s study just confirms what we have been preaching for years,” said Suthers.

In conducting the investigation, the Center for Public Integrity compared numbers that nursing homes had reported to the Government website known as Nursing Home Compare with the numbers submitted in Medicare cost reports, which are detailed reports that nursing homes are required by law to provide and which set out the number of hours paid to staff and the number of residents. By reporting artificially inflated numbers that are posted on the Nursing Home Compare website, the public can be misled when trying to investigate the quality of care rendered at a facility. “You have families relying on inaccurate reports who unknowingly place their loved ones in dangerous facilities,” Suthers said.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as “Obamacare” is the federal statute that was signed into law by President Obama on March 23, 2010. Part of that law sought to change the way nursing homes report staffing levels. Rather than nursing homes self-reporting the numbers, the law requires them to submit actual payroll records, which would reflect the type of staff working and the hours they actually worked. The new reporting requirements were supposed to go into effect by March 2012. Regrettably, they have not yet taken effect.

In the meantime, Suthers says, “It’s just common sense that the more staffing you can have in the nursing home, the better the chances of a patient receiving good quality care.” Many nursing home residents need constant care to perform some of their most basic activities of daily living, such as dressing, eating, ambulating and toileting. Bedridden residents can require additional attention, since they need to be turned and repositioned at least every two hours to avoid developing pressure sores. “By increasing the level of staffing and the training of staff, many of the injuries and illnesses that occur in nursing homes could be avoided,” said Suthers.