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Understaffing in Nursing Homes

Chronic understaffing doesn’t support an atmosphere of safety for residents or staff in nursing homes throughout Illinois. The continued lack of clinical and support staff in skilled nursing facilities and long-term care centers makes providing even basic care challenging.

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Federal standards for accreditation and certification have not changed in over thirty years. For the most part, they aren’t adequate to ensure nursing staff is providing acceptable levels of physical care and emotional support to the home residents. When staff members are spread too thin, people become overwhelmed, and mistakes happen. These practices are simply unacceptable when it comes to the well-being of your loved one.

At Levin & Perconti, we understand how difficult it is to entrust the safety and care of your elderly family member to others. When those individuals break that trust, it can be a devastating experience for all involved.

If your loved one suffered harm due to an understaffed nursing home and resulting negligent or abusive actions by staff members or others connected to the care facility, we want to help. We can evaluate your case and determine if you’re eligible to receive compensation to assist in the physical and financial recovery stemming from your loved one’s nursing home-related injury or death.

“Inadequate staffing at many Illinois nursing homes leaves residents neglected, malnourished, suffering from bed sores or worse,” said Ryan Gruenenfelder, director of advocacy and outreach for AARP. The Journal Star

Long-Term Care is an Industry in Crisis

With approximately 1,200 facilities caring for 100,000 residents, we’re looking at a significant percentage of our most vulnerable population at risk. The Illinois Department Of Public Health has an interactive website where families can check specific data on licensed long-term care facilities, including staff to patient ratio.

On any given day, there can be three distinct types of residents in a nursing facility, including:

  • Those patients recovering from a hospital stay, in need of temporary care and rehabilitation, and expected to return home after a usually determinable time
  • Persons with physical and cognitive impairment requiring some level of care for the remainder of their lifetime
  • Patients with a terminal illness, nearing the end of their life

Due to the varying needs of home residents, the policies, procedures, and protocols for resident care should be case-specific. There is no one-size-fits-all staffing model, yet federal mandates for nurse staffing in long-term care facilities are fairly generic and have not changed since 1987.

The Nursing Home Reform Law requires nursing homes to have:

  • A registered nurse eight consecutive hours, seven days a week
  • Licensed nurses 24 hours a day
  • “Sufficient” nursing staff to meet residents’ needs

In addition to nursing services, facilities must provide:

  • Dietary and pharmaceutical services
  • Social services
  • Rehabilitation
  • Periodic assessments and individual care plans for each resident

In addition to federal mandates, nursing facilities in Illinois must meet mandatory state standards, based on:

  • The number of residents in the home
  • The specific needs of each resident
  • The size, condition, and layout of the building
  • Standing physician’s orders for each resident

Our legal system gives residents of nursing facilities the legal right to freedom from abuse, mistreatment, and neglect. The best way to prevent understaffing in nursing homes is for families to demand sufficient staff, including minimum nurse and CNA staffing levels.

Contact our legal team for a no-cost evaluation if your family believes staffing is a persistent issue at your loved one’s community care residence. You don’t have to settle for subpar care for your elderly loved one due to an understaffed nursing home.

Is it Illegal for a Nursing Home to Be Understaffed?

Not directly, however, understaffing can indirectly cause nursing home abuse and neglect. Several years ago, Illinois legislators passed a law allowing the Department of Public Health to impose penalties on those facilities not compliant with the minimum of 2.5 hours of direct daily care. Due to the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, though, lawmakers delayed implementation.

Proving negligence on the part of a nursing home due to staffing issues can be problematic. Illinois law allows for recording and monitoring devices inside nursing home patients’ rooms. To determine if this option is available for your loved one, speak with an attorney with experience dealing with long-term care facility abuse.

Possible Reasons for Understaffed Nursing Homes in Illinois

According to the Long Term Care Community Coalition, Illinois nursing homes, on average, provide only 2.99 hours of staff care per resident per day. This data ranks Illinois 48 out of 51 states for its ability to provide adequate direct care to its home residents daily, with only Oklahoma, Texas, and Missouri faring worse. It’s clear by this information that sufficient staffing is an issue.

There are more than 15,000 nursing facilities in the United States (totaling more than McDonald’s franchises), but the resident population is declining. Nationwide, more than 550 facilities have closed in the past six years, with Illinois being among the hardest hit. From June 2015 to June 2019, our state saw more than 16 nursing homes close their doors in the four-year period. This number equates to a slightly over 6% closure rate and a significant loss of revenue for the industry as a whole. It’s entirely possible that resulting financial losses may cause nursing home management to deliberately understaff a facility.

Other possible causes for nursing home staffing issues include:

  • Staff turnover due to stress or burnout
  • Over-scheduling available staff
  • High labor costs
  • Lack of available trained staff
  • The high price of overtime pay

Can a Family Sue a Nursing Home for Neglect?

Suing a nursing home for neglecting your elder family member isn’t always a straightforward option. Still, the simple answer is yes, it’s possible to initiate a lawsuit against a nursing home in Illinois.

Nothing can undo any physical damage, pain, or suffering that may result from the poor treatment or mismanaged care of your loved one because of an understaffed community care residence, but pursuing litigation may give your family a modicum of satisfaction in righting an injustice and providing you with financial compensation to cover:

  • The cost of changing nursing homes
  • Out-of-pocket medical costs
  • Mental health therapy
  • Any required physical or occupational therapy

Your Family Can Be Proactive in Protecting Your Elderly Loved One

Understaffing in a long-term care facility or a nursing home can cause needless pain and suffering in the form of dehydration, falls, pressure sores, emotional distress, and, unfortunately, sometimes, death. A concerned family is a powerful force. Be the voice your loved ones need when they are unable or unwilling to speak up for themselves.

Contact an attorney to answer any questions you have concerning the proper care of your loved one in a nursing home facility. If your elder family member suffered harm at a nursing home residence, we can advise you of your legal options.

At Levin & Perconti, our legal team has successfully helped families in the Chicago area and throughout the state in cases of nursing home abuse and neglect. Contact us today for a free case evaluation.

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