July 11, 2021 | Nursing Home Abuse
Anyone who has been a front-line healthcare worker during the COVID-19 crisis knows that it can be tiring and thankless work with high risk and little in the way of reward. Take, for example, the case of certain nursing home staff members and caregivers. What most people don’t realize is that these caregivers are being put in charge of the daily health and needs of vulnerable and at-risk elderly residents, yet many of them are being paid extremely low wages. When low-wage workers become stressed, frustrated, and disgruntled about high-risk and low-wage work, patient neglect and abuse can be the result.
Several studies conducted in the early 2000s found that just among nursing staff, at least 27 percent of nursing home nurses said that they were dissatisfied with their job. Other studies have found widespread burnout, frustration with health benefits, and job dissatisfaction, signaling potential problems for patient care. While these surveys tend to focus on nurses, lower-level caregivers and attendants also experience the stress of a high-demand job working with patients daily.
Now consider that these studies were conducted well before the COVID crisis. Today, more than ever before, front-line workers like nurses and nursing home caregivers are feeling the strain and frustration of long hours, lots of patients, and low pay, with many nursing homes in Kentucky and across the country suffering from staff shortages.
How does low pay contribute to neglect and abuse in nursing homes? Consider that nursing homes were already stretched thin and suffering from significant staffing shortages before the pandemic. Caregivers have an enormous amount of responsibility for the health and well-being of elderly individuals. With difficult and sometimes strenuous working conditions, the low pay offered by nursing homes is not incentive enough to draw in candidates to fill vacant roles.
This low pay then creates a snowball effect. Positions remain vacant, and these unfilled openings mean that current employees must work harder to fill in the gaps. That equates to less time spent with each patient. It can also mean that the needs of some residents aren’t fully met or are simply ignored, resulting in neglect. Studies have also shown that staffing shortages actually put nursing home residents at a higher risk for COVID-19 outbreaks. Stressed out and underpaid workers are also potentially at risk for turning to verbal and physical abuse as they grow to resent their elderly charges.
Yet, some for-profit nursing homes are receiving millions of dollars from Medicare and Medicaid. In many cases, it seems like that money is not being invested back into the system or into the people providing vulnerable individuals with long-term care. Post-COVID media interviews with nursing home researchers, advocates, and staff members point to the fact that billions of dollars in taxpayer money is being used to prop up a failing system. It is a system that is in desperate need of an overhaul for the health and safety of both elderly residents and the caregivers that look after them.
Low pay or being a disgruntled employee are never excuses for turning to abuse or neglect. However, understanding the system a bit better may help family members and loved ones recognize warning signs that may be indicative of a potentially abusive situation.