Researchers are calling for skilled nursing providers to invest more in social services after a study found that facilities with more qualified social workers helped improve behavioral symptoms, like wandering, in residents. 

Researchers also found that SNFs with more social workers helped reduce the use of antipsychotic medications in residents. Findings also showed that residents made “marginally significant improvements” with wandering, rejecting care and other behavioral symptoms. There was no “statistically significant change” in delusions, however. 

Behavioral symptoms in patients can interfere with care and place them at a greater risk of social isolation or injury, researchers noted. 

“Although the focus of most research and effects on improving patient outcomes in SNFs has focused on nursing staff, our results underscore the importance of staffing in social services,” the authors wrote. 

“Specifically, social service staff with higher qualifications are integral to improving care through reducing patients’ behavioral symptoms and avoiding the use of antipsychotic medications. It may be time for SNFs to revisit efforts to improve staffing in social services.”

Researchers analyzed Medicare and provider survey data to evaluate how changes in the qualifications of social service staffing affected changes in patient outcomes. They studied more than 1 million Medicare fee-for-service patient admissions who receive post-acute care at 5,383 skilled nursing facilities. 

The findings were published Friday in the Journal of Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine.