The Salem News had a great article about the chronic problems of infections and short-staffing at nursing homes. Deadly coronavirus outbreaks at nursing homes in Washington, South Carolina, Illinois, Florida, New York, New Jersey and elsewhere are laying bare the industry’s long-running problems: short-staffing and poor infection control. Federal investigators have concluded that infections spread in nursing homes because minimum wage workers come to work while sick, and even spread it to other nearby facilities where they work.
Sherry Perry, a certified nursing assistant at a nursing home Lebanon, Tennessee, has been working through the coronavirus crisis. But she knows the effect worker shortages have on her life – she’s often responsible for the care, washing and feeding of 13 patients on a given shift.
“It’s challenging. We don’t get to spend as much as time as we’d like with the patients,” said Perry who after 34 years on the job makes $17 an hour. Those just starting out make $10 or $11. “The work is hard, they’re underpaid and they’re underappreciated.”
75 percent of the nation’s nursing homes don’t meet federal suggested minimum levels for staffing and many workers are inexperienced. Four out of five nursing home employees are hourly workers, and given the low wages often leave for retail and restaurant jobs just as they become familiar with proper care procedures. And staffing problems at the nation’s 15,000 long-term care facilities could only be exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis, experts said, because lockdowns and school closures have left many such workers with no choice but to stay home and take care of their children.
“Nursing homes would always have been ground zero, but given we already have huge staffing shortages, this will be magnified,” said David Grabowski, a Harvard Medical School professor who has studied staffing problems at homes. “It could be worse for today’s nursing homes than ever.”
“We have the most vulnerable people in a situation where … nursing homes don’t do what they have to do because they are understaffed, not sufficiently trained and there is high turnover,” said Steven Levin, a Chicago lawyer who has sued nursing homes over their practices. “I am extremely frightened.”
Nursing homes have unsafe infection prevention and control procedures. Nearly 10,000 homes in the U.S. – almost two thirds of the total – fell short on at least one infection control measure over the past four years, according to an analysis of inspection reports by Kaiser Health News such as staff not washing hands before helping residents put on a diaper or leaving open sores on a foot exposed to dirty floor.
Just months before the outbreak, the Trump administration eased up in preventing infections. The administration planned to change the rule requiring homes to have an infection control specialist on staff “at least part-time” to having one working a “sufficient” amount of time.