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Severe Shortage of Nursing Home Workers Imperiling Residents

  • October 14th, 2002

A nationwide shortage of nursing home workers is causing thousands of preventable deaths a year, according to an article that is part of a weeklong investigative series on nursing home deaths running in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported to Congress that more than nine out of 10 nursing homes lack enough employees to provide adequate care and that most would have to increase staff by at least 50 percent to do the job properly. ( See 'Nursing Homes Woefully Understaffed, Study Finds,' ElderLawAnswers, Feb. 20, 2002.)

Few people are willing to accept poverty-level wages for work that many consider unpleasant and demeaning. According to the article by Post-Dispatch reporters Phillip O''Connor and Andrew Schneider, this has resulted in nursing home residents going hungry or thirsty or being left to lie in their soiled beds for hours on end without being turned, as well as medical records being falsified to overstate the amount of food and fluid residents consumed or the medication they were given.

"It''s pitiful. It''s criminal. It''s a tragic commentary on our society that people are dying in our nursing homes because they need help and aren''t getting it," said Catherine Hawes, professor and director of Texas A&M University''s Southwest Rural Health Research Center and a national authority in evaluating nursing home quality.

Some experts believe that the federal government should mandate staffing ratios, because the industry isn''t going to do so voluntarily. As we reported in February, the Bush administration has no plans to impose such minimum standards, citing the additional costs that nursing homes would incur if they had to hire more help.

To read the full St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, click here.

The investigative series ends October 18. Other articles in the series so far are: 'Thousands Are Being Killed In Nursing Homes Each Year' and 'Many Nursing Home Patients Are Neglected Even After Death.' To read these and upcoming articles, go to: http://www.stltoday.com/nursinghomes

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Last Modified: 10/14/2002

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