Profit before patients: Staffing problems plagued nursing homes before COVID


It's all about the Benjamins:

The group has spent more than $30 million lobbying Congress and millions more through its state affiliates since 2010, according to a review of state and federal lobbying data by the Investigative Reporting Workshop.

The long-term care industry has long used its political influence to push against reforms that would have increased staffing requirements, training, transparency and oversight. Now, the industry is pushing for — and in some states, successfully passing — legislation to shield nursing home owners from lawsuits during the pandemic.

In the early 2000's my father succumbed to the latter stages of Alzheimer's, and we had to put him in long-term care. Most of the staff we dealt with were really good people, dedicated to easing burdens for their patients. But there was never enough of them on duty, especially after normal "business hours." And 2 out of the 3 facilities he was placed in had corporate headquarters in another state, so straightening out billing problems became a constant nightmare. My mom provided adult diapers to save money, but every month she was charged $500-$600 erroneously, and I had to make several calls to the headquarters each month to get that fixed. Back to the staffing problems:

Nursing homes throughout the U.S. say they’re understaffed, undersupplied and underfunded in the fight against COVID-19. But the problems began long before the virus hit.

Federal data from 2017-2018 showed that 75% of nursing homes didn’t have enough registered nurses on staff. A Government Accountability Office report published in May showed that more than 80% of nursing homes had infection control violations from 2013 to 2017.

Experts like Charlene Harrington, professor emerita of social and behavioral sciences at the University of California San Francisco and an expert on nursing homes, said the multi-billion dollar industry “cut corners” to save money leading up to the pandemic by allowing low staffing, low wages and inadequate enforcement of infection control plans.

“(AHCA) is the lobbying arm, and they’re the ones pushing Congress for all this money and saying they didn’t have the money, and so ‘it wasn’t their fault’ that all these patients died,” Harrington said. “There’s a lot of things they could have done to prevent the deaths.”

In late 2019, U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois introduced legislation to mandate nationwide minimum staff hours. The law would have required each resident to get 4.1 hours of total care from staff a day — the standard academics and advocates have recommended for years. Facilities that failed to comply would have been fined up to $10,000.

But industry lobbyists pushed back and the bill never made it out of committee. AHCA said facilities need more federal funding to pay competitive wages and congressional support for recruitment programs before it can focus on improving staffing levels.

Yeah, that's a crock. Cutting back on staffing is directly responsible for turnover of other employees who have to take up the slack. Retention and recruitment would not be a problem if these corporate vampires didn't try to squeeze every drop of profit they could.