The Crisis in Iowa Nursing Homes: Urgent Need for Staffing Reform

Posted on behalf of Jeff Pitman on April 19, 2024 in Nursing Homes and Elder Rights

elderly woman alone with a walker in a hallwayUnderstaffing in nursing homes has been a nationwide issue for decades. Inadequate staffing leads to negligence, poor quality care and other serious errors that put the safety and well-being of residents at risk. In recent years, staffing shortages have become an escalating issue. Iowa’s long-term care facilities currently have some of the nation’s worst staffing levels in the country.

Fleur Heights Center in Des Moines

According to a recent news article, Iowa state inspectors visited the Fleur Heights Center for Wellness and Rehabilitation in Des Moines last October, after receiving 14 complaints about poor care. During their visit, one of the inspectors reportedly witnessed a troubling incident where a staff member ignored a resident calling for help from his bed. The resident used his call light to get assistance, waiting 15 minutes for a response. A staff member finally came in to see what the man wanted but left promptly after saying she was too busy to help. This incident shed light on the facility’s disturbing disregard for its residents’ well-being.

Following further investigation, inspectors found that Fleur Heights had been without a director of nursing for three months. During this time, the facility continued to be grossly understaffed. This shortage affected daily operations, such as getting residents out of bed, serving meals and aiding residents who needed help with eating. The staffing levels were so low that residents sometimes waited over two hours for assistance. In their report, inspectors noted that the facility had only four nurse aides available to care for 81 residents.

Understaffing Crisis in Nursing Homes Across Iowa

The staffing crisis at Fleur Heights mirrors a larger problem in Iowa. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, 14 percent of Iowa’s nursing facilities were cited for inadequate staffing in 2023. That figure is more than double the national average. This discovery raises serious concerns about the quality of care in these facilities.

Biden’s Proposed Staffing Changes

Amidst these challenges, the Biden administration has proposed a new rule to set minimum staffing levels for nursing homes, sparking some controversy.

Industry lobbyists and many Republicans, including Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, oppose Biden’s new rule, fearing it could worsen the workforce crisis. Other critics argue that the proposal is too weak to improve care standards significantly.

Recent studies suggest that nursing homes may be hiding profits through financial maneuvers, contradicting claims of financial struggles due to staffing costs.

The ongoing issues at Fleur Heights highlight the broader problems facing nursing homes nationwide. Whether or not this rule gets passed, inadequate care remains a serious risk to resident safety, as seen in multiple inspections at Fleur Heights. This underscores the urgent need for regulatory action to ensure adequate staffing and protect nursing home residents’ well-being.

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