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Are Nursing Homes Over-Reporting Staffing Levels?

Nov. 19, 2014

It is very important for nursing homes to maintain adequate staffing levels. Having too low of staffing levels has the potential to trigger some serious problems at nursing homes that could have major consequences for residents. For one, too low of staffing levels can make it more difficult for all of a home’s residents to receive the care they need, which could lead to residents being neglected. Also, low staffing levels could mean increased levels of stress for the staff members who are present. Being overly-stressed could make a nursing home staff member more likely to make mistakes or to engage in regrettable actions towards residents.

Thus, it is not surprising that staffing levels are one of the things Washington families sometimes look at when researching nursing homes when trying to make a decision regarding what nursing home to have an elderly loved one stay at. This makes the findings of a recent investigation conducted by the Center for Public Integrity quite worrisome.

The investigation indicates that the staffing level information provided on a government website that many people use when researching nursing homes, the Nursing Home Compare site, may have some significant accuracy issues. The site contains information on nursing homes throughout the country. The site’s information regarding nursing home staffing levels is self-reported by the nursing homes.

In the investigation, the Center for Public Integrity, using financial reports, made its own estimates of the staffing levels of the nursing homes that have staffing level information on the website and compared these estimates to the levels reported on the site. The investigation found that for a vast majority of the nursing homes, over 80 percent, the Center for Public Integrity estimate for registered nurse staffing level was lower than the level reported on the website. There were quite a few instances in which the discrepancy between the two numbers was quite large; for over 25 percent of nursing homes, the Center for Public Integrity staffing level estimate was one-half or less of the level reported on the website. Discrepancies were also present for the staffing levels of other nursing home positions.

What do you think should be done to address these accuracy concerns? Do you think that over-reporting staffing levels is fairly common among nursing homes? Do you think nursing homes here in Washington generally do a good job of maintaining adequate staffing levels?