Two weeks ago, the National Association of Nursing Home Attorneys covered the expiration of a New Jersey staffing bill that was meant to institute mandatory minimum staffing ratios in nursing homes. This potential cure to the New Jersey understaffing crisis that has gripped the state was struck down. Since then, NJ.com has interviewed certified nursing aides (CNAs) about how that rejection will continue to affect their own safety and the quality of care they can provide to their residents.
According to a report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nursing home aides have a higher rate of injury and illness than freight movers, construction workers, or carpenters. Additionally, in their most recent survey in 2018, U.S. Bureau Labor Statistics analyzed the injury and illness rate of 900 occupations. It ranked nursing home aides as the 34th most injurious occupation in America, placing them in the top 4% of dangerous jobs. These dangers are only exacerbated by factors like the New Jersey understaffing crisis.
Interviewers speaking to nursing home employees found that much of them had just as much issue with the New Jersey understaffing crisis as the families of nursing home residents. The data supports the claim that New Jersey needs to address its staffing levels in nursing homes. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services has rated over 25% of the state’s nursing homes as two-stars or fewer because of insufficient staffing levels.
While many reports about the New Jersey understaffing crisis fixating on the heartbreaking stories of nursing home residents left neglected or poorly treated, it is understandable that the workers responsible for their care have been labeled as the antagonists in this narrative. However, when the New Jersey staffing bill was being proposed, nursing home resident activists and nursing home aide unions both supported the bill. Ultimately, both of these forces were overcome by lobbying groups for nursing home corporations, who claimed that hiring an adequate amount of staffing would be too costly for the corporation.
Ashley Conway, a nurse and assistant professor at the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations, has weighed in on the New Jersey understaffing crisis, stating that short-staffing significantly contributes to injuries of both patients and nursing assistants. As an example, she explained that even trying to help an immobile patient use the restroom becomes a dangerous gamble without assistance. Conway told reporters that aides must ask themselves, “Do I let them lay in their in beds and cry for help, or risk a back injury?” in what she described as “a lose-lose situation.”
Conway also told reporters that even when nursing aides attempt to persevere despite their understaffing issues, many will become injured and never receive the worker’s compensation to help them cover their bills. Ultimately, many experts agree that adequately staffing nursing homes with an acceptable ratio of nurses to patients is the only way to resolve the New Jersey understaffing crisis and ensure the safety of nursing home residents and their aides.
For more information about how nursing home understaffing can lead to neglect and other issues, visit the National Association of Nursing Home Attorneys’ Neglect Page.