According to the Georgia Department of Community Health, a shortage of qualified nurses has caused a major backlog of complaints against nursing homes. Regulators have more than 200 complaints that need to be but a new report from Georgia Health News says that the state agency simply does not have the workers to do so.
As a result, victims of nursing home abuse or neglect are not getting the justice they deserve. Furthermore, nursing homes with known violations are still accepting residents and possibly putting lives at risk.
Effects of Nurse Shortage in Georgia
There is a high number of job vacancies for nurse surveyors, who are an important part of the Georgia Department of Community Health. The shortage is not limited to healthcare workers in government positions. Rather, the healthcare industry at large has an urgent need for qualified nurses.
Nursing homes and assisted living facilities in particular have a big problem with staffing adequate numbers of registered nurses (RNs) because the compensation they can offer is not as competitive as hospitals, private institutions, or other facilities. The problem is, essentially, one of supply and demand. The Georgia Department of Public Health employs 945 registered nurses but has job vacancies for 150 more.
Without an adequate workforce, it is no wonder that hundreds of complaints about conditions in nursing homes are continuing without investigation. Presumably, they also are not being corrected. Understanding the reason why there is such an egregious backlog doesn’t make the number of reports any more palatable, however.
Backlogging in Nursing Home Complaints is Inappropriate
The Georgia Department of Community Health assures the public that the unaddressed nursing home complaints are not problems that involve “immediate jeopardy.” Immediate jeopardy means that the nursing home resident is at a serious risk of harm.
Complaints, in general, can range in severity from maintenance issues in facilities to untreated bedsores. The complaints that actively endanger the health and safety of nursing home residents receive priority because of the state agency’s limited resources.
This preferential system is probably preferable to dangerous complaints being on a backlog. However, the fact of the matter is any complaints of nursing home abuse and neglect should not be backlogged at all. It is not appropriate for complaints to the Georgia Department of Community Health to be put on the proverbial back burner in any circumstance.
Escalating Complaints through Bureaucratic Channels
It is important to understand that the backlog of 200 unaddressed complaints is not comprised of unsolicited complaints from the public directly to the state agency. Each of these unanswered complaints began as a formal complaint reported to a long-term care Ombudsman. When the long-term care ombudsman office receives a complaint, they attempt to work with the nursing home to resolve the problem. The majority of complaints from the public stop here because the Ombudsmen are frequently successful in addressing problems.
It is only when the nursing home fails to correct the problem that representatives from the long-term care Ombudsman’s office refers it to the Georgia Department of Community Health. This agency has enforcement powers that the Ombudsman’s office does not have.
Consider the perspective of the nursing home residents or their family members. Imagine how devastating an abuse or neglect situation is. Then imagine coming to the realization that your complaint is on a backlog without any idea of when it will be addressed. This is a process that is certainly frustrating as residents or families:
- Bring a complaint to the attention of nursing home staff or administration;
- Escalate the problem to the level of the long-term care Ombudsman;
- Receive notice the complaint is escalated to the Department of Community Health;
- Wait 12 to 15 months for an understaffed state department to even begin an investigation because the complaint is not urgent enough.
Now, further realize that the nursing home resident with a complaint is still suffering or uncomfortable all while this process moves along.
Backlog Related to Nursing Homes Are On the Rise
The current backlog of nursing home complaints is not the first. The first backlog occurred in 2017. At that time, 180 complaints fell between the cracks. In 2017, lawmakers in Georgia had not yet approved higher pay grades for enforcement investigation nurses. They also had yet to offer raises for RNs who are veterans.
Now, in 2019, the Department of Community Health is offering inspection nurses extra pay to evaluate complaints on weekends. This incentive is to make sure there are no immediate jeopardy violations in the backlog. So far, the state agency is short 18 RN investigators. This is the same number of job vacancies the last time there was a backlog this size.
The shortage of RNs means that hundreds of resident complaints have gone unanswered. Furthermore, about 100 Georgia nursing homes will not complete a survey by the agency in time to be re-certified. There are not enough nurses to accomplish the task. Also, the agency says there is no money to hire more workers to bridge the gap.
Unfortunately, when there are not enough workers to complete the surveys, residents suffer. The concern is that nursing home residents are subject to inadequate care for long periods of time.
Have Questions about Nursing Homes and the Complaint Process?
If you have questions about nursing homes and the complaint process, that likely means you are suffering. At Nursing Home Abuse Center, we sympathize with what your family is going through, and we want to help.
Filing a complaint with the Ombudsman or the Department of Community Health is not a necessary precursor to legal action. If you are concerned about your own or a loved one’s care, talk to a nursing home abuse lawyer.
All nursing homes have a responsibility to provide a clean, safe, and healthy environment. When they fail to do so, the facility can be held financially liable for the harm their action or inaction caused. Request a free consultation with a Georgia nursing home abuse lawyer to find out what your best options are. Call Nursing Home Abuse Center at 1-800-516-4783, or reach out online.