Residents of nursing homes and their family are generally happy with the care they receive, but not all. Here are the top complaints about nursing homes:
- Slow or Inadequate Response by Staff
- Poor Quality Food
- Social Isolation
- Poor Sleep
- Roommate Conflicts
- Lost or Stolen Personal Items
In the United States, there are approximately 1.4 million individuals who live in nursing homes. Seniors are often reluctant to leave their homes to enter a long-term care facility. Complaints are one way they can express their dissatisfaction with the move itself; however, when there are consistent complaints across many different individuals and many different long-term care facilities, the top complaints about nursing homes might be justified.
Let’s take a look at the 6 top complaints about nursing homes and examine some of the reasons there may be an issue.
1. Slow or Inadequate Response by Staff
Residents often complain about slow responses to their calls. Although residents may feel their needs are being ignored, it’s more likely that there are just not enough staff available. In 2020, one in five nursing homes reported not having enough personnel available to meet caregiving demands.
It’s estimated that about 15 percent of all nursing homes, public and for-profit, do not have enough staff. Related to these shortages, many facilities have poorly trained staff.
Having worked as a Licensed Social Worker in a nursing home before, and as the Director of Adult Day Services at an Alzheimer’s care facility, I can attest to these shortages on firsthand basis. Nurses are in high demand and the direct care workers are particularly hard to come by. These are low-paying jobs that include hard physical labor, lifting and moving residents, and you are constantly on the move.
High turnover rates mean new employees are entering and leaving with a vast disparity of training. Staff call out often as well. It was not uncommon for me, as a social worker, to be called in to assist with certain elements of direct care when staffing was particularly tight. Nursing homes that are in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas tend to be even more understaffed.
2. Poor Quality Food
Another big complaint by residents involves the quality of food they are served. It’s a challenge to provide nutritious food options while catering to each resident’s preferences. However, inadequate food budgets and poor staff training can impact the quality of food available.
New nursing home regulations make it clear that facilities must provide snacks and meals on-demand, not just at certain hours. Nursing homes fortunately have flexibility with their food sources. Food can be bought directly from local sources, the facilities can grow their own food, and families can bring favorite dishes for the residents to enjoy.
Nursing homes that participate with Medicare and Medicaid programs must provide meals that meet residents’ religious, cultural, and ethnic food restrictions. A dietician must also do periodic reviews of the facility’s menus to keep their Medicare/Medicaid qualification status.
Regardless of these food flexibilities and requirements, poor quality food is still one of the top complaints about nursing homes. It is just too difficult to make many diverse meals for so many people, particularly to appease the taste buds of people coming from a generation accustomed to home-cooked meals.
3. Social Isolation
With the increased pressure on staff in facilities facing employee shortages, caregivers do not have the time to prolong interactions with residents. Family members often cannot visit as much as they would like, lifelong friends are gone or out of reach, and they are surrounded by strangers in a home that is not their own. The result is a feeling of social isolation among residents.
Social interactions directly affect the health and well-being of individuals. Life ceases to have meaning for many without social contact. Feeling isolated increases a person’s risk of developing dementia by 50 percent and having a stroke by 32 percent. The new regulations have eased up on visiting hours. Residents may now have visitors that are not family members at any hour of the day as long as the visit isn’t disturbing other residents. Hopefully, after COVID-19 restrictions are no longer needed, more friends and family will take the time to visit.
4. Poor Sleep
Another top complaint about nursing home is poor sleep. Staff and resident disruptions are too common. Because care is given 24-hours, staff may need to check on patients or administer medication at inconvenient hours. Noise from other residents’ rooms or the hallway as the nurses are conversing is also common.
These types of complaints can be easily remedied, however. A TV or radio curfew can be enforced. Residents who like to watch late-night programs can wear headsets. If sleeplessness results from medication administration, perhaps when the dosage is given can be changed. Staff should be mindful of sleeping residents when speaking with others or going about their routines.
5. Roommate Conflicts
Up until recently, residents didn’t always have a say in who they shared a room with. It is quite an adjustment from living in your own home to living in a nursing home with someone you don’t know. Moving to a private room will eliminate conflicts such as this. However, this might not be possible. Limited accommodations or the increased cost often means people need to share a room. New regulations state that residents who want to live together can do so when possible, so you may be able to choose a more agreeable roommate if your current one is troublesome.
Finding a way to deal with roommate conflicts will improve the general nursing home experience. Residents may need to have staff intervene in some instances. Unfortunately, one in five residents are victims of verbal or physical abuse from other residents. If a roommate is abusive, then immediate steps should be taken to protect the other person sharing the room, and the abuse should be reported.
6. Lost or Stolen Personal Items
Lost items are another top complaint. I also witnessed this firsthand on a regular basis. Nursing home residents, particularly those with dementia, would wander into rooms and rummage through others’ belongings, often leaving with something. You also had the unfortunate instances when staff could not be trusted and jewelry would disappear.
While it’s possible that other residents, staff, or visitors walk off with personal items, it’s also possible that carelessness or forgetfulness are the reasons for different things being misplaced. Residents themselves lose their own belongings and assume others must have taken it. It’s essential to have insurance that covers the loss of eyeglasses, dentures, and hearing aids. Newer nursing home regulations hold facilities more responsible for residents’ items as well.
Where to File Complaints About Nursing Homes
Misplacing a hearing aid or an occasionally less than savory meal may not be grounds for filing an official complaint. However, nursing home residents have rights, including being free from abuse, being provided with nutritious food, and not having to worry about stolen personal property. The first step is to discuss the situation with the staff and facility director. You should fill out a grievance report.
If you feel a nursing home violates the law, you can report it to the local long-term care ombudsman’s office that you can locate through our State Resources page. If the nursing home is part of the Medicare/Medicaid program, you can fill out their complaint form. Another helpful resource is the National Citizens’ Coalition for Nursing Home Reform.
Nursing home residents are legally permitted to report abuse or neglect without retribution from the staff or facility. Medicare provides a nursing home checklist for you to use to assess the quality of care you can expect from any nursing home you are considering.
For further reading, consider the following titles:
- Compassion and Corruption: A Candid Look Behind Nursing Home Doors
- When Love Gets Tough, the Nursing Home Decision
These may be the top complaints about nursing homes, but they’re not the only complaints. Let us know if you have experienced other complaints and how it was (or wasn’t) resolved.