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How the Doctor Shortage Affects Nursing Home Residents

Our elderly population is growing – by 2030, one in five Americans will be at least 65 years old. One of the most pressing problems with this is the lack of doctors training to be geriatricians, or doctors who specialize in treating the elderly. Our nursing home attorneys explain why geriatricians are so important, and how the nursing home industry must evolve to meet resident needs.

According to report by the United Health Foundation, the next generation of senior citizens (meaning the baby boomer generation) will be sicker than those before it. The Foundation estimates 55% more senior citizens will have diabetes, 25% more will be obese, and the next generation will be 9% less likely to claim they’re in good health.

But fewer and fewer doctors are training to be geriatricians. Even our current workforce is not properly trained to deal with elderly patients, including physical therapists and psychologists.

Raw Numbers

In 2015 there were nearly 47 million Americans aged 65 and older, 14 million of whom needed geriatric care. To serve this population we need about 20,000 geriatricians. As of 2014, there were only 7,423 geriatricians in the country.

To become a geriatricians doctors must complete a geriatric fellowship. There are 130 geriatric fellowship programs in the country, with 383 open positions. This year, only 192 of those open positions were filled.

The Future of Nursing Homes As A Business

The elderly need specialized care so they can live happy, productive and full lives. If they’re unable to get the treatments they need, they quickly fall to sickness, immobility, and dementia.

Seniors will be forced to live in nursing homes to gain access to trained nursing and medical care. Ultimately, the costs of this will fall to Medicare, the federal health system for seniors, which is funded by taxpayers. We have been representing residents neglected and abused in nursing homes for 30 years. Unless something drastically changes in the industry, these facilities will not be equipped to care for the aging population properly and safely. The quality, funding, and capacity simply isn’t there.

Nurding home ownershipFor-profit corporations own most American nursing homes. These companies run chains of facilities in several states, and operate as any other corporation: with profits and shareholders at top priority. Southern and Western states have higher rates of for-profit facilities.

For-profit companies keep revenue high by cutting corners, paying staff low wages, and understaffing facilities. Residents require varying levels of assistance, but most depend on staff to get around and perform daily tasks. Understaffing nursing homes may save the company money, but it puts residents at risk of falls, bedsores, infections, and other serious injuries.

Overworked, improperly trained staff are more likely to overmedicate residents that they don’t know how to deal with. Two-thirds of residents receive psychoactive medications. In fact, over-use of antipsychotic drugs like Seroquel is so rampant, governments and legislatures have had to take action.

Giving residents medications they don’t need to control their behavior is called chemical restraint. Nursing assistants provide most of the care in nursing homes, but their training is minimal. If a staff member misinterprets a resident's behavior as aggressive, or if they just don't have enough time to provide the care a resident needs, they often turn to powerful drugs to sedate them. This is especially true for residents with dementia.

The relationship between higher nurse staffing levels and better quality care is obvious and proven. Yet there's no federal requirement for nurse staffing levels. As for-profit facilities proliferate and our nation ages into retirement, we need to be aware of how these facilities operate, why they’re linked to poorer care quality, and hold them accountable for bad practices.

States should monitor nursing home ownership to ensure high-quality care is provided and, if it is not, the negligent companies are punished. State and federal policy should address our ability to meet the needs of our aging population.

Our nursing home lawyers represent injured residents and their families throughout the country. We all know how slow policy changes take, if they happen at all. Legal action is the most effective and efficient way to enact change in the nursing home industry, improving care for all residents. If you have any questions about nursing home care, injuries, neglect or abuse, contact our firm for a free consultation. Our attorneys will travel to you and your family to guide and counsel you.