Op-Ed

Legislature must beef up staffing at nursing homes

A photo of Bobby Crail, who died at Woodcrest Nursing and Rehabilitation Center after being pinned underneath his motorized wheelchair at the bottom of a flight of stairs.
A photo of Bobby Crail, who died at Woodcrest Nursing and Rehabilitation Center after being pinned underneath his motorized wheelchair at the bottom of a flight of stairs. mdorsey@herald-leader.com

In Kentucky, it isn’t unusual to find nursing homes that schedule one registered nurse or nurse’s aide to do the impossible — provide quality care to 40 residents for the entirety of a 12-hour shift.

This is nowhere close to the federal government’s recommendation of an “expected staffing” level that provides residents more than one hour of care from registered nurses and two hours and 45 minutes from nurse’s aides every day. The feds also urge states to beef up those requirements, and many have.

But not Kentucky. In the Bluegrass, the majority of nursing homes fall short of that goal — and many fall way short.

On average, Kentucky nursing homes report 43 minutes of daily care from registered nurses and two hours and 19 minutes from nurse’s aides, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which collects staffing and resident population data from the facilities.

Is it any surprise that Kentucky has one of the worst collective ratings for nursing homes in the nation?

As Herald-Leader reporter John Cheves’ recent watchdog series reveals, serious problems with quality of care resulted in 43 percent of Kentucky’s 284 nursing homes receiving “below average” or “much below average” ratings by CMS.

In other words, 12,500 nursing home residents are at high risk for becoming even more seriously ill or dying.

The problem? Understaffing.

Multiple research studies show a positive relationship between nursing-home quality and staffing and the benefits of implementing higher minimum-staffing standards. Studies also have identified the minimum-staffing levels necessary to provide care consistent with the federal regulations. Nevertheless, many facilities, including Kentucky’s, have dangerously low staffing.

Our legislators have the power to change this. Until now, they chosen not to. Some have repeatedly blocked colleagues’ efforts to introduce bills that would require higher staffing levels.

For years, the General Assembly has bent over backward to protect profit margins for the rich, powerful nursing-home industry. It’s time for a shift in priorities. It’s time to protect our frail, helpless nursing-home residents.

Sherry Culp is Kentucky State Long-Term Care Ombudsman amd President, Nursing Home Ombudsman Agency of the Bluegrass, Inc.

  Comments