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Few families have escaped the heartache of an elder or injured family member who just cannot be cared for at home, no matter how loved he or she is.  That leaves family members searching for a facility, usually a nursing home or assisted living facility, to care for their loved one.  The more nursing and care facilities the person needs, the more difficult it is to find an adequate nursing home, particularly at Medicaid rates.  Unfortunately, many of the patients and their family members end up in our office seeking compensation for injuries and deaths that would not have occurred in an adequately staffed nursing home with adequate procedures being followed.

The families of residents in the Golden Living Center in Trussville were in large part unaware of the serious deficiencies at the Trussville nursing home which will result in its closure in January 2016.  The closing is as a result of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services terminating their services.  The Golden Living Center had been cited in recent years for deficiencies and was named to the CMS Special Focus Facility, meaning it was considered to have more problems than other nursing homes, more serious problems than most other nursing homes, and a pattern or serious problems that has persisted over a long period of time. WBRC Fox 6 News, “Families outraged to learn Trussville nursing home is closing in 1 month.”

Medical provider liability cases all to often arise out of nursing home care.  This, in many cases, is due to the understaffing of  nursing homes.  “The appropriate staffing ratio during peak care hours at nursing homes should be one Certified Nursing Aide, the primary basic caregivers in these facilities, to every five or six patients, according to John Schnelle, director of the Vanderbilt Center for Quality Aging.  In reality, the average ratio during labor intensive daytime and evening shifts is one aide to anywhere between eight and twelve patients, Schnelle said, which creates major problems.”  C.N.A.’s Understaffed at Nursing Homes, Caregiverlist Media.

The Alabama regulations governing nursing homes does not provide a nurse or nursing assistant to patient ratio.  It merely states that “[t]he facility must employ sufficient support personnel competent to carry out the functions of the dietary service.”

When a nursing home is understaffed and a patient is injured due to the understaffing or lack of staff training, the nursing home is often undercapitalized and underinsured, making a recovery against the nursing home difficult. In a Continuing Legal Education seminar that I spoke at last week, I discussed Hill v. Fairfield Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, LLC, 134 So.23d 396 (Ala. 2013).  Plaintiff was seriously injured by a fall at the nursing home.  The nursing home was woefully undercapitalized and only had $25,000 in insurance coverage.

Those who own and operate nursing homes must, of course, make a profit to stay in business.  However, extra profits cannot be made by understaffing or otherwise providing less than adequate services to the patients.