Families Push for Minimum Nursing Home Staffing Ratios

Families in Kentucky are supporting a bill that would require nursing homes to have specific numbers of nurses and aides on duty to care properly for their patients.  The bill would require one aide for every nine patients during the day shift, one aide for every 13 patients during the evening shift, and one aide for every 19 patients at night.  The bill would also require one nurse for every 21 patients during the day, one nurse for every 29 patients on the evening shift, and one nurse for every 42 patients overnight.  

Currently, Kentucky law does not set minimum standards for staffing other than to require nursing homes to have "sufficient" staff to meet their patients' needs.  Unfortunately, te term "sufficient" isn't defined.  Similar bills to require minimum staffing ratios in Kentucky have failed in the past.  Thirty-seven other states have minimum staffing laws. Read more about the push for minimum staffing. 

The well-financed nursing home industry in Kentucky, of course, opposes the bill.  That's a shocker!  The industry's stance was made clear by comments from one of its representatives, who asked "Why should we allow someone outside the business to dictate to us what numbers are appropriate?"  Maybe because those inside the industry are doing such a bad job?!?

I'll bet that in every one of Kentucky's 300 or so licensed nursing homes, staff on the floor -- those who know the patients best -- don't get to establish their own facilities' staffing needs.  Nurses and aides probably support minimum staffing ratios as much as, if not more than, families.  Why?  They make fewer mistakes, are involved in fewer workplace injuries, and have a better opportunity to get to know their patients on a personal level.  However, I'll bet staffing needs are assessed and established by facility administrators and corporate owners, operators, and management companies, none of whom has performed a bit of hands-on care and all of whom are trying to stay within budget.  

Another representative of Kentucky's nursing home association stated, "More bodies walking the hallway doesn't equate to better quality care."  Wrong again!  The very minimum aspects of basic nursing home care -- eating, dressing, baths, security, medications, etc -- require the services of a minimum number of staff.  Less staff means the basics won't get done.  Above that minimum, however, I agree that staffing levels should be based on professional judgment and the needs of the patients. 

The need for minimum staffing becomes even more apparent, however, given the industry's mindset, another glimpse of which we caught when yet another industry representative spoke to say that staffing requirements aren't a good idea because more staff might "give a false perception of quality."  That's scary!  Rather than clean up its act by hiring more staff, the nursing home industry in Kentucky would rather continue to make it abundantly clear to the public just how unsafe it really is . . . a perception corporate nursing home owners and their lobbyists are in no hurry to change.
Robert W. Carter, Jr. is a Virginia attorney whose law practice is dedicated to protecting the rights of the victims of nursing home and assisted living neglect and abuse in Richmond, Roanoke, Norfolk, Lynchburg, Danville, Charlottesville, and across Virginia.