"Nursing home" is a remarkable misnomer when you consider how little direct nursing care many patients of nursing homes receive.
One of the ways this neglect manifests itself is in poor oral health, which, in turn, leads to difficulties eating which can produce malnutrition.
Staff writer Valarie Honeycutt-Spears recently reported on a Hickman County nursing home that went six months without discovering that one of its patients wore dentures. The patient had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, bipolar disorder and diabetes, and, perhaps because two of his false teeth were missing, there was no record that he had dentures.
The presence of dentures in a patient's mouth is the kind of thing a nurse or nurse's aide who had spent much time attending the patient would notice.
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But the patient's face had been swollen for nine days before a dentist was summoned and discovered that the dentures had become "corroded." As a result, the patient was at risk for a blood infection.
This neglect, which can only be described as inhuman, apparently was not an isolated incident at Arbor Place of Clinton. Following numerous other citations, the nursing home lost its federal funding and its patients are being moved.
While we can console ourselves that this must have been an extreme example, the reality is almost all nursing homes have too few nurses and aides to provide the level of care required by medically or mentally fragile patients.
Ninety-five percent of U.S. nursing homes lack adequate staffing, according to the Center for Personal Assistance Services at the University of California in San Francisco.
The center, part of the university's medical school, cites various studies that have determined adequate staffing would provide 4.1 hours to 4.55 hours of care from nurses or nursing assistants for each patient each day. Any less than that, say some experts, results in harm and jeopardy to the patients.
As an example of patients in jeopardy, nearly 80 percent of nursing home residents studied by University of Kentucky associate professor Dr. Robert Henry had poor to fair oral health.
Another member of the University of Kentucky's dental faculty, Dr. Pam Stein, and a Lexington nursing home are teaming up on a project to see what kind of difference can be made by assigning a staff member to care for patients' oral health.
The project at Homestead Nursing Center, one of the state's most highly rated nursing homes, is being funded with a $25,000 grant from a trade group. A nurse's aide trained by a dental hygienist will focus on patients' oral health.
Thanks to Stein and Homestead for seeking practical solutions to a widespread problem. We suspect this project will demonstrate that just minutes of care each day can make a notable difference in a patient's health and quality of life.
Perhaps, eventually, such evidence will force those who make policies and laws to require more staff to provide more nursing at nursing homes.