One of the many impacts the COVID-19 pandemic has had on life in the U.S. is on our nursing force. As the pandemic spread, nurses in assisted living facilities and hospitals were pushed to the limit. Burned out by long hours, high patient counts and other problems, many nurses left the profession.
Two and a half years into the pandemic, those nurses have not been replaced in America’s nursing homes. When these facilities do not have enough nurses, they stretch their workers past safe staffing levels for residents. Nurses themselves acknowledged the situation in a survey, the results of which were released recently. In the survey, 51 percent said that medical malpractice had gone up due to the pandemic and had still not improved more than 30 months since the crisis began in March 2020. Seventy percent said that staffing shortages at their workplace had not improved since early this year.
Nursing home staffing requirements vary by state
Each state has its own laws requiring certain minimal nursing home staffing levels. For example, in Pennsylvania, a facility must have at least one nursing staff employer on duty per 20 residents, and at least two “nursing service personnel” must be on duty at all times. Each resident is supposed to receive at least 2.7 hours of direct care each day.
When an assisted living facility falls short of adequate nursing staff-to-resident ratios, the health and safety of residents are at serious risk. A tired, overworked nurse with more patients than they can reasonably handle is more likely to make mistakes like mixing up a resident’s medications or forgetting to turn them in bed regularly.
Most nursing home residents are there because they need help with daily tasks. Understaffing means these needs might not be met properly, causing residents to become neglected and potentially damaging their health.