Resident’s Death Highlights Understaffing, Other Problems in Iowa’s Nursing Home Industry

Posted on behalf of Jeff Pitman on April 27, 2024 in Nursing Homes and Elder Rights
Updated on May 3, 2024

wheelchair in resident's roomThe death of Leslie Wells at an Iowa assisted living facility is yet another example of the ongoing care crisis in Iowa’s nursing homes.

Axios Des Moines reports Wells died in 2021 just four months after transferring to Deerfield assisted living facility. Her husband, Sam Wells, decided to initiate the transfer after she fell and suffered injuries. Sam felt his wife was not receiving proper care, attributing the problem to understaffing.

The couple spent years planning for long-term care for Leslie’s genetic disease, leukodystrophy. This condition is a genetic illness that causes cognitive issues and seizures.

Sam and Leslie ultimately decided on Edgewater’s independent living center, located in Des Moines, Iowa. They thought it was one of the best facilities in the state and became became residents there in 2018. On January 19, 2021, Leslie was transferred to long-term care.

However, Leslie’s stay at Edgewater’s long-term care facility lasted barely more than a month. Her husband felt her care there was extremely poor, so he had her transferred to Deerfield assisted living facility in Urbandale. At Deerfield, Leslie’s condition improved a little. She even gained some weight in the first few weeks she was there. However, within the first four months, she passed away.

Edgewater refused to make any comment on Sam Wells’ allegations. Despite Sam’s believe that the substandard care of his wife was due to understaffing, inspection reports do not show any evidence of staffing shortages during the time that Leslie was in their care. A spokesperson for, WesleyLife, the facility’s parent company, said the facility has not had any staffing shortages in the past five years.

Sam kept detailed handwritten notes about Leslie’s care. For example, he wrote that his wife soiled herself three times in just one month because it took 90 minutes for her to get assistance using the bathroom.

Sam also wrote that his wife suffered five falls during her stay, including one fall that caused a head injury. Edgewater did not document whether its staff told Leslie’s doctor or her family about this injury.

Staffing Issues at Iowa Nursing Homes

The data shows that staffing has long been a serious problem in Iowa’s nursing home industry, especially since the onset of the pandemic. In fact, staffing has led to many nursing homes being closed. In 2022 alone, 17 nursing homes closed, representing 13 percent of all nursing home closures in the nation.

Unlike many other states, Iowa has no mandated  minimum for staffing requirements. Instead, the law focuses on residents’ needs being met.

AARP data gathered in 2023 says just under half of nursing homes in Iowa (42 percent) have staffing shortages. Nationally, Iowa’s nursing homes are the 11th-worst in the nation for understaffing.

Increase in Nursing Home Complaints

There was a massive increase in nursing home complaints from 2019 to 2022 (from 39 in 2019 to 83 in 2022). The complaints received involve incidents of serious injuries and death. This data is from the Iowa Department of Inspections, Appeals and Licensing (DIAL).

Iowa has struggled to manage these complaints. In 2021, DIAL had a significant backlog of unresolved complaints – 410 were a minimum of 30 days old and 201 complaints were over 120 days old.

While Iowa has had difficulties managing complaints and inspecting facilities, it is not as bad as in some other states. In places like Missouri, Kentucky and Maryland, 50 percent of inspections were late as of February 2023. Just 22 percent of Iowa facilities were not inspected every 15 months as the law requires.

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