I’ve come to accept that the physical responsibilities placed upon nursing home staff are completely unrealistic. The desire of management and administrators to maximize the individual productivity of nursing home workers may appear to be an admirable proposition on paper— yet, fails when it comes to providing quality care for patients.
While an assembly line approach to staffing can yield increased productivity in an industrial setting, the technique is inappropriate in situations where— heaven forbid, more individualized care is required. While I regularly hear from nursing home staff how overwhelming their superiors expectations are of them, it frankly can be difficult to accurately quantify how such working conditions impact the patients.
A recent episode of blatant nursing home neglect, reported by WCCO in Minneapolis caught my attention, for both the tragic outcome of the situation, but also because a closer review of the circumstances highlights the dangers situations of under-staffing at nursing homes.
Recognizing that they were short-staffed one evening, officials at Adams Health Care Center called a night nurse in early to assist with the distribution of meals to patients. After distributing a meal tray to an elderly man and positioning him in his bed, the nurse went about to distribute the remaining trays to other patients. Unfortunately, in her haste to complete her responsibilities, the nurse failed to abide by specific instructions set forth in the patient’s medical chart.
With a history of pneumonia and breathing difficulties, staff had identified the man as being a higher risk for choking and implemented the precautionary measures such as:
- Verbally instructing the patient to swallow each bite two times
- Instructing the patient to eat slowly and regularly clear his throat
- Position the bed at a 90-degree angle while he was eating and lower to a 45-degree elevation following the meal to help with digestion
Shortly after the patient was left with his meal— and without the safety protocols in place, he began coughing. Shortly after nursing home staff were summoned to his assistance, his heart stopped. An investigation into the incident concluded that the patient’s death was related to his choking on food.
While an appropriate sanction is being considered by officials, this incident highlights the dangers posed to vulnerable nursing home patients when there is inadequate staffing levels in place at facilities to satisfy each patients care needs.
As opposed to placing all responsibility for this episode of nursing home negligence on the back of the single employee who acted inappropriately, I hope that officials delve deeper into this incident and evaluate the number of staff members on duty at the time of this incident and the number of patients they were responsible for caring for.
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