The Daily Chronicle had an article explaining how the history of unsafe staffing in the nursing home industry led to more Covid deaths. Unsafe staffing leads to abuse, neglect, and caregiver burn-out. The article discussed Washington nursing homes. The complaints are common in the industry. Workers describe poor wages and understaffing by facilities. Former residents detailed how patients suffered as a consequence.
One resident inside the Enumclaw Health and Rehabilitation Center hadn’t been bathed for three weeks. Another described waiting 15 minutes for help after a fall incident. Other neglected residents complained of even longer waits for help, lasting 45 minutes or more.
“Sometimes there are so few people in the building,” the resident told inspectors, “if there were an emergency, it would be a calamity.”
“What the government should have done is raise staffing requirements during the pandemic” when the workload increased, said Charlene Harrington, professor emeritus at the UCSF. “You wouldn’t have had all the deaths if you had been able to maintain and improve the amount of staff and the quality of care during that time.”
Long-standing short-staffing created a perfect storm at many facilities. A Seattle Times analysis found that inspectors cited 118, or more than half, of the state’s skilled nursing facilities a total of 225 times for having insufficient or unqualified staff, according to federal data. The state rarely penalized nursing homes for these deficiencies. No enforcement, no compliance.
“Staffing is the same across the board. You never really have enough or you feel like you never have enough,” said Darla Williams, a nurse who has worked in Skagit County nursing homes for two decades.
COVID-19 exposed the persistent staffing problems. Studies found low staffing to be a credible predictor of whether facilities had outbreaks.
Lawmakers pledged in 2015 to raise the staffing minimum to a safe federal recommendation. A safe minimum is at least 4 hours 6 minutes of direct care per patient per day to prevent harm. Many facilities exceed that safe minimum. 4.1 can and should be done. Our loved ones deserve it.
The horrible working conditions contribute to “fairly constant” turnover among nursing assistants. Policy groups estimate annual turnover rates for direct care workers nationwide is often greater than 60%.
Nursing home operators often argue they have trouble attracting and retaining staff. Maybe they should pay a living wage with good benefits.