NURSING HOMES: Understaffing Poses Health Threat
Prompted by a recently released federal report that found many U.S. nursing homes are "so understaffed they may be endangering the welfare of their patients," Senate Committee on Aging Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) last Thursday urged Congress to rethink its plan to provide more funding to these facilities. According to the AP/San Francisco Examiner, a HCFA study of 1,786 nursing homes in three states revealed that 54% of nursing homes were staffed below the minimum staffing level of "two hours a day for residents with nurses aides." Twenty-three percent of homes surveyed were staffed below the suggested minimum level of "45 minutes per day with total licensed staff," and 31% were staffed below the suggested minimum level of "12 minutes per resident day for registered nurses." The study also found inadequate staffing levels to be associated with otherwise avoidable hospitalizations including: pneumonia, urinary tract infections, dehydration, bedsores and malnutrition. "These incidents turn the stomach and hurt the conscience. They beg for a solution," Grassley said. But Grassley warned against simply increasing federal funding to long term care facilities, adding, "Based on today's report, I'm not willing to give the nursing home industry a blank check." Currently, laws mandate only that nursing homes provide "sufficient nursing staff to attain or maintain the highest practicable ... well-being of each resident." However, nursing home advocates say federal and state funding is critical for the maintenance of adequate staffing levels and quality care for residents, and insist that Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements are too low. "State and federal governments are failing their moral obligations to provide funding to reach even minimal staffing levels," Len Fishman, president of the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, said. He added, "Now that the federal government is considering adopting staffing standards, it must accept its responsibility to provide a significant infusion of funds to pay for these levels of care." A second phase of the study will examine the feasibility of implementing minimum safety requirements at nursing homes, HCFA administrator Nancy-Ann DeParle said. Approximately 1.6 million elderly and disabled Americans receive care in 16,500 nursing homes throughout the United States, with Medicaid covering the majority of these patients (Carter, AP/San Francisco Examiner, 7/27).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.