Today, many families entrusting a skilled nursing facility with the care of a loved one may be shocked to find out the low number of registered nurses and other medical professionals that are actually providing care inside nursing homes at any given time. The controlling federal law intended at one time to improve the country’s nursing homes, the Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987, actually requires only one registered nurse on-site eight hours a day, regardless of the size of the facility.
Additionally, often times, advocates and experts believe that the data is skewed by nursing homes to make it look as if there are a greater number of medical staff available at all times in their home due to government data relying on self-reporting by the owners of the nursing homes. Data on the publicly available Nursing Home Compare website, which is promoted and operated by the government for comparison shopping, reflects staffing levels self-reported by nursing homes during a two-week period before annual federal inspections. Advocates say many homes work hard to prepare for those visits, and, as a result, critics say, those staffing levels may be artificially inflated. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the federal agency responsible for overseeing nursing homes, has since 2001 discussed the problem of the inaccuracy of self-reported data. Unfortunately, these self-reported staffing levels are a crucial metric in the federal government’s broader quality rating of nursing homes on their Nursing home Compare website, which is heavily relied on by the public.
The discrepancies between the inflated numbers and the actual numbers can lead family members to believe their loved ones are receiving one level of care, when they may be receiving much less. This is troublesome as close to 100 peer-reviewed, academic studies have shown that the amount of care, particularly that provided by registered nurses, is most strongly connected with residents’ quality of care. Lower levels of care are associated with a higher likelihood of injury, abuse, neglect and even death.
Recently representatives in Congress have taken steps to alleviate some of these problems, including, Jane Schakowsky of Illinois, who introduced a bill in the House to combat the problem. The Bill would require that a direct-care registered nurse (not an administrator) be present 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in all the nearly 16,000 nursing home that receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement. Additionally, there is another bill being proposed by Congress that would reform the self-reporting requirements. However, it is unclear at this point if these measures will do anything to alleviate this very serious problem facing some of the country’s most vulnerable citizens.
Suthers & Harper, which practices throughout the States of Georgia and South Carolina, regularly represents victims who have been abused or neglected and their families in cases against nursing homes and assisted living facilities. If you believe a family member has suffered a serious injury or died as a result of abuse or neglect in a nursing home, you should contact the experienced, nursing home litigation attorneys at Suthers & Harper. For more information on nursing home abuse and neglect, see the page entitled “Nursing Home Resource Center” at the website of Suthers & Harper, www.sutherslaw.com.