It is a major decision to choose whether to place an aging parent into a nursing home. The understanding is that they will receive a high level of care while residing in a comfortable facility.

New data indicates an unfortunate reality among nursing homes in New Jersey and throughout the country. Many of these facilities are significantly understaffed, especially on weekends. An inadequate number of nurses and other staff members has led to needless suffering among these facilities’ residents.

Gaming Medicares five-star rating system

When placing an aging parent in a nursing facility, consumers have a broad range of options. To help make this decision easier, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) implemented a five-star rating system to evaluate nursing homes. The intent was to help families compare different facilitates to make the best choice for their parent.

One element of the five-star rating evaluates how well staffed a facility is. CMS based this rating on unverified payroll records. This lack of oversight led to some facilities to game the system by fully staffing their facilities only when there was an upcoming inspection. When there was no upcoming inspection, nursing homes that had a five-star rating would routinely fail to have enough staff.

Understaffing leads to preventable hospitalizations

Approximately 1.4 million people receive care in nursing facilities throughout the United States. When these nursing homes are understaffed, essential medical care becomes overlooked. One of the adverse side effects is patients are needlessly experiencing bedsores.

Bedsores occur when a patient is left in the same position on a bed for a prolonged period of time. When nursing homes do not have enough staff, nurses may not have enough time to turn all their patients, thereby preventing bedsores from emerging. In serious instances, a bedsore can result in a hospitalization that should have never occurred.

Changes to reporting still leaves patients at risk

The CMS sought to make changes to how they evaluated the staffing at nursing facilities. In April, they shifted to using daily payroll reports to produce a staffing rating. After moving to this new reporting system, 70 percent of facilities reported a drop in their total staffing, with an average of 12 percent less staff among all 14,000 reporting facilities. As staffing numbers drop, the odds of a health code violation happening increases.

Low levels of nursing home staffing will likely to remain issue going forward for many facilities. When inadequate staffing results in your parent suffering bed sores or other forms of medical neglect, you have a right to hold these facilities accountable for their substandard care.