Irma’s hurricane-force winds have subsided, but the political winds are just starting to blow, especially with regard to long-term care facilities and nursing homes.
After 14 residents died in a Hollywood nursing home when it lost power during the hurricane, state legislators have already filed more than a dozen bills proposing various changes to the state’s regulatory framework that are designed to prevent nursing home abuse in Florida. Several measures address the state’s nursing home ombudsman position. This office is supposed to supervise the state’s hundreds of nursing homes and thousands of rehabilitation facilities, but some Democrats believe that Republican Governor Rick Scott has limited its effectiveness.
These lawmakers want the ombudsman position contracted out to a private entity that they believe would be more independent. Some other bills require these facilities to have backup generators and undergo periodic physical inspections.
The most controversial idea concerns the use of “granny cams,” or hidden surveillance video cameras in patient rooms. Advocates say these devices provide compelling evidence that abuse did or did not occur, thus saving the court’s time. On the other side, opponents claim that the cameras are bad for morale in places where, largely due to staffing cuts, morale is already quite low. Several years ago, some lawmakers introduced a bill to legalize granny cams, but the measure died in committee in 2012.
Such hidden surveillance cameras are legal in six states, not including Florida.
Why Are St. Petersburg Nursing Homes Dangerous?
Nursing homes, like almost all other healthcare enterprises, are in business to make a profit, and many of these profits come from Medicaid reimbursements. But, in 2012, even as other expenses increased, the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services cut nursing home reimbursement rates by over 10 percent, to compensate for prior overpayments. Nursing home administrators had to make up the difference somehow, and in many cases, the changes they made have a direct impact on patient safety.
Many facilities accepted more patients to increase their revenues. As a result, many erstwhile private patient rooms became semi-private rooms. Space became more scarce in common areas, as well. Private dining tables became nonexistent in many places, and many residents also lost a favorite spot on the couch in the communal living room. These changes may seem small to many people, but as explained below, they often affect nursing home abuse in St. Petersburg.
Additionally, to maximize reimbursement rates, many facilities accepted patients who were already in very poor physical condition. Unfortunately for the patients, offsite nursing home administrators often had little or no appreciation for the increased strain these residents place on staff members.
Many administrators trimmed expenses as well, beginning with payroll, which is one of the largest expenses that most nursing homes pay. Even though the patient population increased, many nursing homes laid off workers and reduced worker hours. As a result, the workers who remained found themselves dealing with many more patients than before and many of these patients were very high maintenance. Furthermore, because of the hour reductions, many nursing homes became dangerously short staffed, especially during holidays, weekends, nights, and other off-peak hours.
The staff reductions affected new employees, as well. Since the facility paid lower wages, some lesser-qualified employees, perhaps even ones with criminal records, joined nursing home payrolls. Additionally, many nursing homes reassigned critical tasks to employees who lacked the credentials to perform them. For example, a nursing home might assign certain job duties to a licensed vocational nurse or a patient care technician, even if the industry standard probably mandated a registered nurse.
Economically-Induced Abuse at St. Petersburg Nursing Homes
The result of all these economic changes is an environment which puts profits before people, a common issue in corporate America. That designation is especially important among Florida nursing homes because large, out-of-state conglomerates have purchased many smaller facilities that simply could not remain profitable on their own.
The cumulative impact of more patients who are worse off and have fewer and less-motivated employees to care for them is often abuse, like:
- Resident-on-Resident Nursing Home Abuse: This category is the fastest-growing kind of nursing home abuse in St. Petersburg. As patient privacy decreases, many residents become increasingly protective of what little privacy they have. If the facility has dementia patients and others who tend to wander into other people’s rooms or other people’s territory, the situation is even worse.
- Staff-on-Resident Physical Nursing Home Abuse: Frail patients may sustain serious injury after the slightest push or shove, and bed sores quickly become life-threatening if the patient is not turned frequently.
- Staff-on-Resident Non-Physical Nursing Home Abuse: Staff members sometimes isolate patients simply because staff levels are too low to properly care for these individuals. Moreover, harried staff members are more likely to emotionally and verbally abuse residents, and these wounds are just as bad as physical wounds. Finally, some very unscrupulous staff members steal money from residents and commit other financial frauds.
This atmosphere created by nursing home abuse has heightened the need for hidden surveillance cameras, according to many advocates. In addition to proof of negligence, such devices arguably give family members peace of mind and help stop nursing home abuse before it starts, because of the deterrent effect.
Nursing home abuse victims are often entitled to substantial financial compensation, but that’s just part of the picture. More importantly, damage claims draw attention to the issues at the facility and thereby help prevent future incidents of nursing home abuse that may be even more serious.
Rely on Experienced Nursing Home Abuse Attorneys
Nursing home abuse affects thousands of Florida families. For a free consultation with an experienced nursing home abuse attorney in St. Petersburg, contact Burnetti, PA. Our nursing home abuse attorneys do not charge upfront legal fees in these cases. Call us today to schedule an appointment with an experienced member of our team.