Commentary

Understaffing in nursing homes jeopardizes health of patients

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How many of you reading this have a friend or relative in a long-term care nursing facility?

Anyone who makes these facilities their home deserves to be treated like they are at home. The sad reality is this isn’t always the case in Kentucky.

It should be.

One way to make sure everyone in these facilities has good care is to have additional nursing staff on duty. Additional staff can spot and correct issues like dehydration, bedsores and malnutrition before they become severe, and more expensive to treat.

The professionals now carrying out these tasks are doing the best they can, but they can’t do more than is humanly possible. And expecting them to, as we do now, is jeopardizing not only the health of the patient but the health of the staff.

The Kentucky General Assembly could improve this situation by passing House Bill 573, a bill which I filed on Feb. 27. This proposal calls for Kentucky to join nearly 40 other states that now exceed the federal minimum requirements for staffing so we can provide better care for our family, friends and neighbors.

House Bill 573 would essentially require one registered or licensed practical nurse be on duty per every 21 residents during the day and per every 29 residents at night. It would also require one nurse’s aide per every nine to 10 residents during day and evening shifts and per every 19 residents at night. Larger facilities would also have to have nurse supervisors on staff.

Facilities that can’t meet these ratios over a period of two consecutive days would be barred from taking on new admissions until they can demonstrate that they have taken corrective action, while facing fines of up to $1,000 for each day they are not in compliance.

To prevent problems that may arise in the future, HB 573 would also establish a permanent committee to study how Kentucky can improve long-term care staffing needs in the years ahead.

Research shows that a typical long-term care resident should have about 4.1 hours of direct care per day with medical staff to avoid unnecessary decline and injury.

About 45 minutes of that time should be with a registered nurse. Another half hour should be spent with a licensed professional nurse, with the remainder of the time spent with a certified nurse aide. With HB 573, we can help to provide this level of care by relieving staff of the impossible task of having to care for 30 or more people over a shift, as many currently do.

The author Pearl S. Buck – the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature – was right when she said, “The test of a civilization is in the way that it cares for its helpless members.”

If we want to make the golden years of all Kentuckians truly golden, quality long-term care has to be part of the mix. House Bill 573 is the vehicle that can help get us there.

Rep. Rick Nelson represents the 87th House District which includes Bell County and part of Harlan County.

Kentucky Today’s Perspectives section provides a public forum for our readers to express their views on issues of importance. The opinions expressed are those of the writer and should not be construed as an official position taken by this newspaper. We encourage you to join in the conversation by sending your essays to editor@kentuckytoday.com. We reserve the right to reject submissions deemed inappropriate.

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