Inadequate Staffing in Nursing Homes

As the Chicago Tribune unearthed in 2009, understaffing in Illinois nursing homes led to dangerous living conditions for residents. In response, the Illinois legislature passed a sweeping set of reforms in 2010 to improve these conditions. The new law included an overhaul on psychiatric evaluations, increased nursing home inspectors, and new staffing standards based on the amount of care required by each nursing home resident.

Unfortunately, these new staffing requirements did not differentiate between licensed professionals and nursing assistants. This lack of definition often leads to a smaller number of registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) on staff, which can directly relate to neglect and abuse. It also resulted in greater dependence on care provided by nurse’s aides.

Low Staffing Levels Are Directly Related to Low Quality of Care

Without enough skilled staff on hand, it can be impossible to deliver the high quality of care as set forth in state and national nursing home laws. For instance, understaffed nursing homes often have increased reports of:

Understaffed nursing homes can also face increased instances of sexual abuse and physical abuse due to lack of supervision.

In many instances, understaffing results from a nursing home administrator’s choice to prioritize profits over quality of care. Understaffing can stem from constant turnover due to poor working conditions, low wages and other factors.

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Ever-Changing Staffing Levels Can Also Affect Quality of Care

High turnover rates for nursing assistants plagues nursing homes across the state. This is particularly troublesome, as the Illinois Council on Long Term Care reports that nurse’s aides provide approximately 70 percent of the daily care that each nursing home resident receives. This daily care includes assisting with feeding, grooming, bathing, turning and transferring residents. The physically intensive work conditions, along with potentially poor management and low pay, can lead to constant high turnover rates. This only makes it that much more difficult for nursing homes to provide a high quality of care.

Recommendations for Increasing the Quality of Care in Illinois Nursing Homes

The loudest recommendation coming from all advocates of nursing home residents calls for increased staffing levels. The Senate Special Committee on Aging received recommendations for the preferred minimum number of hours each resident should receive from licensed staff and aides:

  • For RNs, at least 27 minutes per day
  • For all licensed staff (RNs and LPNs), at least one hour
  • For nurse’s aides, at least two hours

While Illinois law generally meets the amount of time laid out here, the nursing homes in the state still have room to grow in ensuring a balanced amount of care between licensed staff and nursing assistants.

Another recommendation includes increasing wages for nurse’s aides such as CNAs. Advocates of this step believe that increased wages help acknowledge the amount of care and effort aides put in every day for the residents, which can only help to retain quality care providers.

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