Getting to the Bottom of the Skilled Care Crisis in American Nursing Homes

eldercareThe ever-increasing need for elder care in the United States, driven largely by aging Baby Boomers, has lead to an expansion of the elder care industry. According to the latest available statistics from research firm IBIS World, the industry now boasts more than 22,000 businesses specializing in the care of America’s elderly, a statistic that has grown 3.9% since 2009.

There isn’t any secret to the industry’s success; more and more parents are getting older, and with an economy which is still standing on shaky legs, fewer and fewer children have the means, not to mention the time, to support them. The better option often seems to be a nursing home or other elder care option.

A new report from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services may very well revise that opinion, however. According to the federal agency, a full 80% of American nursing homes are misreporting the number of skilled staff members they employ, particularly when it comes to registered nurses. The discrepancy was discovered when comparing nursing homes’ actual annual costs to what their costs would be at their reported staffing levels

How Badly Understaffed Are Our Nursing Homes?
Some statistical discrepancies are to be expected; however, many nursing homes claiming to have trained nursing staff onsite for care are providing that care in shockingly spare doses. The Center for Public Integrity recently reported on one Arkansas-based elder care center that provides its residents with only 11 minutes of skilled care per day. The report speaks to a troubling industry-wide trend, but it also focuses on the region of the United States that is said to be most guilty, since 80% of those said to have erroneously reported staffing numbers are located in the South.

Is More Oversight the Key to a Safer Nursing Home Industry?
The report is pushing many nursing homes to make changes on their own, but for many patient advocates, the industry as a whole has proven itself untrustworthy enough to require improved government oversight.

“Primarily, you need to visit the nursing home yourself, observe with all of your senses,” says Keith Blomquist, Administrator at Singerly Manor. “There is no replacement for someone who will check out the nursing homes their self, if you see lousy distracted employees the care also will likely reflect that.”

Richard Mollot of the patient advocacy organization Long Term Care Community Coalition told NBC News that oversight may be the key to ensuring data reported on staff members is accurate. The benefits to patients and their family members if such oversight were to be implemented are self-explanatory. Government enforcement, not marketplace trends, Mollot argues, needs to be the defining factor in how the bad apples of the industry are allowed to behave.

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