Nursing Home Staffing Issues May Worsen with Federal Vaccine Mandate:

Low staffing, a common cause of nursing home neglect, could increase in the wake of mandate enforcement.

As announced in a CNN article, on Jan. 13 the U.S. Supreme Court voted to uphold a federal vaccine mandate for healthcare workers employed at facilities that receive Medicaid or Medicare funding. While intended to protect the health of vulnerable citizens, the decision nevertheless could, by forcing the resignation or firing of non-vaccinated nursing home workers, escalate the ongoing worker shortage crisis that impairs nursing home care and leads to nursing home neglect.

In a 5 to 4 decision, the Supreme Court upheld the federal vaccine mandate’s final rule requiring all healthcare workers without religious or medical exemptions to be fully vaccinated. For facilities in those states that sued late last year to block the mandate, the deadline to be fully vaccinated will be March 15. The remainder state facilities must have staffs fully vaccinated by Feb. 28. Pennsylvania and New Jersey facilities are among the states that did not challenge the mandate and must meet the earlier deadline.

The penalty for a facility’s non-compliance will be the loss of Medicare and/or Medicaid funding. Striving to be compliant will put nursing homes across the nation in the position of needing to let go of those employees who are unwilling to be vaccinated or who cannot prove medical or religious exemptions to the mandate. The result, in the short term, will be the cropping up of simultaneous nursing home job vacancies—staffing shortages that could be viewed as fallout from the vaccine mandate. But nursing home staffing issues are neither a new, nor a short-term, problem.

Although nursing home staffing issues may worsen with federal vaccine mandate, long before the crisis of the coronavirus pandemic, staffing woes have plagued the nursing home industry. Whether occurring as a result of understaffing by nursing home owners to save money, or as a result of worker shortages due to low wages, low staffing is a common issue that impacts efficiency and quality of care, with troubling consequences for elderly residents: nursing home neglect.

A reduced workforce means that the job of providing sufficient care so as to avoid nursing home neglect falls to a facility’s remaining staff members. When overloaded with duties, nursing home employees cannot meet every requirement of the elderly residents in their care; as a result, residents’ needs fall through the cracks, setting the stage for nursing home neglect. Nursing home neglect resulting from low staffing reveals itself through a range of serious circumstances involving nursing home injuries, including but not limited to the following:

  • Medication Errors—Overburdened staff members are prone to mistakes, and medication errors are among the more serious consequences of low staffing. Handing out the wrong medication or the improper dose of a medication can lead to such nursing home injuries as fractures, head injuries, and choking.
  • Nursing Home Falls—Neglected residents, particularly those who need help in and out of bed or onto the toilet, can suffer falls that lead to a range of nursing home injuries like fractured bones and head injuries.
  • Malnutrition and Dehydration—Insufficient attention paid to a resident’s nutritional or hydration needs can result in malnutrition and dehydration. Both malnutrition and dehydration are considered types of preventable nursing home injuries.
  • Bedsores—Also known as pressure wounds, bedsores develop when immobile residents are left too long in a single position. If not promptly addressed, bedsores can become infected and rapidly advance into serious wounds. Bedsores are common nursing home injuries. Severe, neglected bedsores can result in death.

Thanks to the low wages currently offered to nursing home employees, nursing homes will continue to struggle to staff post-mandate vacancies, particularly while higher paying and less demanding jobs outside of nursing home care exist. Speaking in a Kaiser Health News article, Brian McGarry, a University of Rochester professor who studies long-term care, said nursing assistants “can typically find a job with better pay that is less physically and emotionally demanding. Somebody’s life and dignity is in your hands, and it’s a huge responsibility, and you are not getting paid commensurate with that responsibility.”

Fighting for Your Loved One

Ensuring adequate, quality staffing is among the measures Pennsylvania and New Jersey nursing homes should take to preserve its residents against nursing home neglect or abuse. Philadelphia/PA and NJ nursing homes are required by law to meet specific health and safety requirements and to provide such care as to secure the physical, mental, and psycho/social well-being of their residents. Should you have concerns about a Pennsylvania or New Jersey nursing home, or if you suspect neglect, abuse, or fraud has occurred at the Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, or New Jersey nursing home where your loved one lives, please contact nursing home abuse attorney Brian P. Murphy to discover your legal rights and options.