Nursing Shortages Yield a High Risk of Patient Abuse and Neglect

Due to the pandemic, the effects of nursing staff shortages have come to light, which recent reports have shown could contribute to patient abuse and neglect. Because of understaffing, there are growing concerns around patient health, with concerns around dehydration, extreme weight loss, poor hygiene, untreated bedsores, and other health problems harming residents of nursing homes around the country.

How the Pandemic Exacerbated the Issue of Staff Shortages

Understaffing isn’t a new problem that nursing homes have faced exclusively because of the pandemic. Over the years, staff shortages have been a lingering issue for nursing homes, leading to an increased risk of abuse and neglect among residents. However, the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have worsened the situation, as family visitors were restricted from paying visits to residents because of the virus. Nursing homes often rely on visitors to help employees perform certain tasks for residents, but their absence may have made instances of abuse and neglect more severe.

According to Kaiser Family Foundation, over 1.4 million nursing home residents and staff have been infected with Covid-19, with over 178,000 dying and accounting for 30 to 40 percent of deaths in the U.S. from the virus. With the decrease in nursing home staff along with limited visits for family members, many residents have suffered in different ways. Even as some nursing homes attempt to bring on immigrant nurses to help, understaffing remains a serious problem.

Ultimately, the pandemic helped further expose the longstanding issues regarding understaffing and other gaps in regulations for nursing homes. Before the pandemic, many nursing homes were understaffed for budgetary reasons, enabling them to spend less on wages and benefits for employees. In turn, nursing homes were able to make a profit at the expense of residents’ wellbeing.

How Understaffing Negatively Impacts Nursing Home Residents

If there aren’t enough trained nursing home staff available to attend to residents, these shortages can lead to a number of problems for residents. Specifically, understaffing may contribute to:

  • Challenges with administering and dispensing medication according to strict schedules, leading to worsened health issues that the medication would otherwise help mitigate.
  • The inability to provide residents with food on a routine schedule, causing malnutrition and dehydration in residents, especially for individuals who are unable to feed themselves.
  • An increased risk of bedsores for residents who are unable to move in bed and require staff to turn them.
  • Exhaustion among staff members, which often leads to increased instances of violence and excessive force when performing certain duties.
  • A greater chance of slip and fall injuries because of an insufficient number of employees to assist with ambulatory residents.

How Overtime Can Make the Situation Worse

Nursing home staff shortages have also led many employees to work overtime in an effort to compensate. As a result, these employees work for longer periods and may wind up working an extra shift. Although the increased pay may appeal to these employees, they often suffer because of the long work hours, which can affect both them and residents.

For example, exhausted staff are more prone to making certain medication mistakes such as giving patients the wrong dose.

Generally, understaffing leads to more negligent staff, which is likely to cause serious harm to nursing home residents. This is why measures need to be taken to prevent staff shortages.


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