I am often asked why the quality of nursing home care in Florida and in Venice and Sarasota, in particularly, is so poor. Most people are shocked to learn that, as of 2005, Medicare ranked Sarasota County as the fifth worst county in the entire nation for nursing home care based on annual survey and complaint inspections conducted by the Agency for Healthcare Administration!
As a nursing home abuse lawyer, I am frequently asked by clients and others how and why it is possible that nursing home care in Sarasota and Venice is so poor. The answer is simply: understaffing. The reason behind the understaffing, however, is a little more complex. Nursing homes are required under federal law to provide sufficient staff to meet each resident’s individual healthcare needs. This has been the law since 1987; however, few nursing home corporations fulfill that legal requirement in good faith. In 1987, President Reagan signed the Nursing Home Reform Act into law in response to widespread investigations of nursing home abuse and neglect resulting in deaths throughout the United States.
The problem really exists in the manner in which nursing home corporations are compensated. Nursing homes receive the vast majority of their revenue from taxpayer dollars through Medicare and Medicaid. The amount they receive depends on the number of beds that are occupied in their facility as well as the level of sickness or acuity of those residents. In other words, the greater the occupancy and the sicker the residents, the more money the nursing home corporation makes. Medicare assumes and expects that the additional money it pays to the nursing home to care for the greater numbers of residents with higher needs will be used to hire, train and employ additional staff. Of course, in reality, often times the nursing home corporation accepts the additional money from Medicare but does not use it to hire and train more staff. This does wonders for the nursing home corporation’s profit margins but leaves the patients under their care and their families short-changed. The practical result? Bed sores, malnutrition, dehydration, falls, medication errors, and other serious and potentially life threatening incidents occur.
This practice constitutes elder abuse and neglect under both Florida and Federal law and should not be tolerated. In an era where nursing home corporations are seen slashing costs and operating understaffed to increase stockholder returns, it is easy to understand why the quality of care is decreasing and nursing home abuse and neglect are on the rise.