Understaffing causes neglect

State and national organizations pushing for nursing home reform say life-threatening problems in facilities for the elderly usually are linked to inadequate staffing.

Nursing home residents have their needs ignored because staffers are overworked, according to top officials with the National Citizens’ Coalition for Nursing Home Reform in Washington, D.C., and Kentuckians for Nursing Home Reform, which has its headquarters in Lexington.

Serious problems have also occurred at Baptist Convalescent Center in Newport, where two patients became severely dehydrated, with one dying, and at Villaspring of Erlanger Health Care Center, which is under investigation by the Kenton County Commonwealth Attorney’s office.

“Ninety-two percent of the nursing homes in the country are not staffed at a level that allows them to provide adequate care,” said Alice Hedt, executive director of the national coalition, which is pushing federal legislation that would mandate specific staffing levels in nursing homes.

“Our main issue is staffing in nursing homes. It’s the basis for most of the abuse and neglect that we see,” said Bernie Vonderheide, who heads the advocacy group in Kentucky.

Like the federal government, Kentucky has no specific staffing requirements that establish a ratio between the number of patients and the number of staff members that must be on duty to care for those patients, Vonderheide said.

“Kentucky is one of 13 states without staffing regulations. They follow the federal regulations that only say that you must have sufficient staff to provide adequate care. We say that they interpret these widely and wildly,” Vonderheide said.

Thirty-seven other states have much more specific standards on staffing, he said.

Hedt testified before the Senate Special Committee On Aging on May 2 – roughly 20 years after passage of the federal government’s Nursing Home Reform Law. In her testimony, Hedt cited two studies that had been completed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“These reports and other research show that below 4.1 hours of nursing care a day, residents will almost certainly be harmed – suffer from pressure sores, dehydration, malnutrition, fractures, infections and other conditions that cause pain, decline in functioning, avoidable hospitalization and death,” Hedt told the committee.

The Baptist Convalescent Home in Newport received a citation from the state earlier in the week after a resident died two days after he was removed from the home suffering from dehydration.