Qualified social workers key to minimizing nursing home neglect

It takes many different staff members to make a nursing home facility run safely and effectively. Adequately staffed nursing homes need enough nurses, doctors and other medical staff on hand, but this is not necessarily enough to guarantee safety. Social workers provide crucial support to residents and also play an important role in preventing nursing home neglect.

Unfortunately, social workers are often in short supply. According to research from the Scripps Gerontology Center, part-time qualified social workers can be found at 83% of nursing homes. Since these are only part-time workers, they may not be able to fulfill patients' needs. Only 68% of nursing homes employ at least one qualified social worker on a full-time basis. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services defines a qualified social worker as someone who has received a bachelor's degree or higher in social work and has spent at least a year working with individuals in health care.

However, only nursing homes that have 120 or more beds are required to employ a full-time social worker. Under federal regulations, the social worker does not even need to have a degree in social work. Researchers from another institution found that as many as half of all states are not in compliance with federal law on this matter.

Understaffed facilities force social workers to take on workloads that are much too high, making it difficult or even impossible to adequately address the needs of all patients. Social workers can help improve a patient's quality of life -- especially someone who is a long-term resident -- and can also help identify signs of abuse or neglect. Without these workers staffing facilities, nursing home neglect can continue undetected for quite some time.

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