How Understaffing in Nursing Homes Leads to Patient Injuries

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Understaffing is a major problem in a variety of industries, and while the effects are rarely positive, they can be especially devastating in health care companies. Specifically, understaffing in nursing homes and senior care facilities can have a tremendous impact on residents’ health outcomes and overall well-being. 

Nursing home understaffing has been recognized as a major issue since the 1980s, yet persists for several reasons. The U.S. is experiencing a shortage of registered nursesFrustrated Nursing Home Worker Yelling At Elderly Patient (RNs), a problem exacerbated by the aging Boomer cohort. Many health care executives continue to view short staffing as a viable cost-saving strategy, which contributes to higher staff turnover rates. Lastly, the understaffing crisis has been greatly deepened by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Despite federal lawmakers’ efforts to ensure minimum staffing levels in nursing homes across the U.S., understaffing isn’t going away any time soon. If your loved one lives in a nursing home, long-term care facility, memory care home, or similar retirement living situation, it’s critical that you know the signs of nursing home understaffing and the associated risks.

This article will explore the nature of nursing home understaffing, including the warning signs and injuries that can result and how a nursing home abuse lawyer can help.

Did you or an elderly loved one suffer nursing home abuse or neglect? You may be eligible to pursue compensation through a nursing home abuse lawsuit. Contact Case Barnett Law to discuss your legal options in a free consultation. 

Signs of Nursing Home Understaffing 

Research demonstrates that understaffing in nursing homes has a tremendous negative impact on residents’ quality of care. Unfortunately, understaffing is far from rare. According to a 2024 report released by the American Health Care Association, about 70% of nursing homes still have fewer employees than they did before the pandemic, despite the surge in demand. 

If you’re considering nursing home care for your elderly family member, parent, or loved one, it’s important to be able to recognize the signs of understaffing. When researching or touring a senior facility, look out for the following red flags: 

  • Delayed response to patients’ calls. If, while touring a facility, you notice that patient call lights and verbal requests for assistance go unanswered, it could indicate the facility is insufficiently staffed to meet all of the patient’s needs. 
  • Lack of cleanliness in the facility. Workers in understaffed nursing homes often struggle to keep up with the basic needs of their patients and don’t typically have time to clean up messes that occur throughout the day or complete end-of-shift cleaning tasks. 
  • Unanswered inquiries. If you’ve reached out to a nursing home multiple times without receiving a response, don’t expect communication to improve after your loved one has become a resident. Unanswered inquiries and poor communication with families are often clear indicators that staffing is insufficient. 
  • Limited options for personalized care. Elderly individuals have diverse needs and often require personalized diets, exercise routines, physical therapy, and activities to thrive. If the nursing home facility you’re researching offers little in the way of individualized options, that could mean they don’t have enough staff members to provide personalized care. 
  • High rates of staff turnover. Understaffing doesn’t just hurt nursing home residents—it hurts the facility’s workers, as well. Insufficient staffing can increase the risk of worker injuries, burnout, and turnover, especially when health care workers feel unable to provide quality care to their patients. 
  • Poor hygiene. One of the more obvious signs of an understaffed nursing home is when a facility’s residents appear unkempt and neglected. Signs include poor hygiene, dirty clothes, and overgrown hair and nails. 
  • Neglect and abuse. When understaffing is not addressed, it can lead to nursing home neglect and abuse. If residents or their families report bedsores, frequent medication errors, an uptick in resident injuries, emotional distress and confusion among residents, or similar issues, neglect and abuse likely occur. 

Remember: Skilled nursing facilities and senior care homes typically put their best feet forward when prospective residents and their families are visiting. If you get an uneasy feeling about what you see when touring a facility, there’s a good chance you won’t like what goes on when you’re not around. 

Injuries Caused by Nursing Home Understaffing

Understaffing in nursing homes is a major contributor to resident injuries. While many injuries occur due to inadequate care, assistance, and supervision, others are caused by violence from frustrated, overworked, and unsupported staff members. 

Although understaffing increases the risk for practically every type of injury, some are more common than others. The following injuries are a few of the most commonly associated with understaffing in nursing homes: 

  • Slips, trips, and falls. When there aren’t enough staff members to assist residents who have mobility issues, residents are forced to attempt transitions alone. This can result in broken bones, concussions, deep bruising, muscle tears, and other debilitating injuries. 
  • Dehydration and malnutrition. When a staff member is stretched too thin, they may fail to ensure that all the residents are staying hydrated and eating their meals. Both dehydration and malnutrition can increase a resident’s risk of developing more serious health conditions. 
  • Infections. Negligent care and poor hygiene can lead to serious infections, including skin infections, urinary tract infections (UTIs), and respiratory infections. Left untreated, an infection can be life-threatening, especially if it turns into sepsis. 
  • Emotional distress, trauma. Negligent or abusive care inflicted by an unsupported staff member can cause a resident to develop anxiety and depression, accelerate the symptoms of dementia, exacerbate agitation and isolation, and more. 
  • Bedsores (pressure ulcers). Bedsores are a serious and life-threatening type of injury caused by insufficient blood flow. They often occur in patients with mobility issues who are unable to shift body position without assistance. These injuries are typically excruciating and, left untreated, can lead to sepsis. Sadly, they are almost entirely preventable. 

This is not an exhaustive list but rather a sample of common injuries associated with nursing home understaffing. If your loved one exhibits any of these injuries, it’s important to conduct a thorough investigation. An elder abuse attorney can help you assess the situation, collect evidence, and, if necessary, pursue legal action. 

Case Barnett Law: Trusted Nursing Home Abuse Attorneys in California

The issues caused by understaffing are a vicious circle that often exacerbates other care needs. If you or an elderly loved one have suffered serious injuries as a result of nursing home understaffing, you deserve justice. An experienced Costa Mesa nursing home abuse lawyer may be able to help you pursue compensation through a lawsuit. Contact us online to schedule a free case evaluation with a compassionate legal expert. 

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