The lawsuits are coming! The lawsuits are coming!

John O'Connor
John O'Connor

Given the nature of what they do, it's not surprising that nursing homes sometimes find themselves targeted in lawsuits. Unfortunately, it appears that this discomforting reality is about to become more uncomfortable.

Blame staffing levels. Or more accurately, blame the lack of them. Put another way, the meager staffing practices seen at many facilities practically invite lawsuits. And it hardly helps that more and more data exposing such levels is becoming available by the day.

But it's not like an uptick in lawsuits is some far off prospect. In June, we saw a lawsuit against a dozen Golden Living facilities in Arkansas receive class-action status.

Then earlier this month, Pennsylvania's Attorney General sued three dozen more Golden Living communities.

In both cases, inadequate staffing levels were alleged. And that's why it's not just Golden Living's officers who should be concerned. The reality is that virtually every long-term care facility is a potential target.

So what's an operator to do?

The easy answer is to make sure your staffing levels do not invite close inspection, or worse. And even then, there are no guarantees.

In an effort to provide some guidance, Memphis-based Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz recently posted some handy tips on its website.

They are:

• Have a system to track how you are maintain minimum staffing standards

• Include an arbitration agreement in your admission packet

• Train staff on proper charting

• Don't hire additional staff on inspection days, or send emails suggesting as much

• Respond to understaffing complaints

• Manage residents' and families' expectations about staffing levels

• Don't advertise yourself as something you're not

Common sense practices, right? Yet you'd probably be shocked to see how many operators routinely neglect several or more of them.

So, do these steps guarantee you won't be served? Hardly. But they can only help. And from the looks of things, a lot of communities are going to need all the help they can get.

John O'Connor is McKnight's Editorial Director.

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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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