Nursing homes provide an essential service to the citizens of our communities. These long-term care facilities are meant to be a haven where residents can enjoy safety, health, emotional wellbeing, and meaningful social relationships—while receiving the hands-on, round-the-clock care their age or condition requires.
But like any type of organization, there are good nursing homes, and there are bad nursing homes. Even in better facilities, one act of substandard care can have a highly detrimental effect on vulnerable residents. And when we see patterns of negligence and mistreatment, it’s a sign that the nursing home needs to do better.
So, what are the three most common complaints about nursing homes?
The top three complaints are:
- Slow response times to calls
- Poor quality food
- Isolation and lack of social interaction
In addition to these three most common complaints about nursing homes, some of the other top-ranking grievances residents express include:
- Sleep disruptions
- Roommate conflict
- Lost or stolen personal items
- Cramped living arrangements
- Staff ignoring the residents’ wishes
- Restricted visiting hours
- Undertrained staff
Understanding the complaints most commonly voiced by residents gives us the opportunity to make improvements. Let’s look closer at the top three nursing home complaints, why they happen, and how they affect residents.
1. Slow Response Times
The most common complaint in most nursing homes is the unresponsiveness of staff members. Whether staff take an unreasonably long time to respond or fail to respond at all, many residents feel that their calls for help or assistance are not prioritized.
Often, we see residents who are left in bed despite making repeated summons, not helped to their rooms after mealtimes, or ignored when making an urgent request. This is more than a simple inconvenience or frustration to residents. This type of negligent behavior on the part of staff members can put residents’ lives at risk.
The Dangers of Slow Response Times
Slow response times can cause residents to suffer a number of difficulties, health issues, and setbacks. Those who reside in nursing homes tend to already have underlying health conditions. When caretakers aren’t prompt and timely in their response to residents’ needs, those under their care may suffer:
- Fall injuries if they attempt to get up or use the restroom alone
- Soiled bedsheets
- Bed sores
- Health complications resulting from inactivity
- A lack of exercise
- Deteriorating emotional health
Why Do Slow Response Times Happen in Nursing Homes?
The most common reason for slow response times is understaffing. A recent study found that 94% of the nation’s nursing homes are understaffed. The staffing crisis in U.S. nursing homes is worse than it’s ever been. In the aftermath of COVID-19’s surge, care facilities were left struggling to keep up with increasing demands while dealing with a dwindling, burned-out pool of qualified workers.
But challenges like these are never an excuse to let patient care fall through the cracks. In the very times when our elderly loved ones need help the most, nursing homes have an increased responsibility to give the highest degree of care.
Too many facility administrations have made the decision to cut back on hiring adequate numbers of staff in an effort to keep costs low. Similarly, some facilities have fallen into offering lower pay, staffing less qualified workers, conducting fewer background checks, and providing less supervision to those on staff. Conditions like these are a recipe for poor resident treatment.
When we see slow response times in a nursing home, it’s often a sign that there are larger issues at play.
2. Poor Quality Food
Issues related to the quality of food offerings are also one of the top three nursing home complaints. Poor quality food in a nursing home is generally defined as that which:
- Offers little to no variety
- Is not rich in vitamins and nutrients
- Contains many processed ingredients
- Does not provide alternatives for residents with allergies or dietary restrictions
- Fails to meet the individual health requirements of residents
- Does not incorporate seasonal and local foods
Beyond the quality of the food itself, residents have better outcomes when they have autonomy in their own food choices. It’s important that those eating have a say in what they choose to eat. Even factors like serving portions, the way the food is presented, dishes and tableware, and the number of dining companions can impact a person’s ability to enjoy their meals.
The Dangers of Poor Quality Food for Nursing Home Residents
A research study conducted across 38 nursing homes found a strong link between better food and enhanced quality of life in residents. Poor quality food can lead to adverse consequences like malnutrition, dehydration, lack of appetite, aversion to food, and a variety of serious health complications that accompany these problems.
Family members of nursing home residents can help advocate for their loved ones on this matter. Start by asking your loved one what they ate that day, and make notes of the foods they mention, how often they seem to eat, and what their dining experience is like. Pay attention to their weight and skin tone. If you notice any troubling trends, ask to speak to the nursing home staff member responsible for food and dining. There may be alternate choices available upon request. If you continue to see problems, you may need to look for outside help.
3. Lack of Social Interaction
A high number of nursing home residents complain that they are socially isolated or lonely. A 2020 study on loneliness and isolation in nursing homes found that 22% to 42% of residents suffered “severe loneliness.” This is a very concerning statistic when compared to the rate of severe loneliness among community-dwelling adults of a similar population—just 10%.
There is no doubt that consistent, meaningful social interactions improve the health of nursing home residents. Research has found that social isolation is associated with a 50% increased risk of dementia and a 32% increased risk of stroke.
Nursing homes have a responsibility to provide activities that keep residents active, emotionally stimulated, and socially engaged.
The Dangers of Social Isolation
Loneliness and social isolation have been linked to multiple damaging consequences, including:
- Depression and anxiety
- Risk of substance abuse
- Suicidal thoughts
- Elevated blood pressure
- Worsening or development of dementia
- Worsening of Alzheimer’s disease
- Recurrent stroke
- Aggressive behaviors
- More frequent hospitalizations
The best thing you can do to help your loved one avoid the effects of loneliness is to spend time with them. When you can’t be there, encourage them to participate in group activities, try new hobbies, and make friends with fellow residents.
What To Do if You Suspect Mistreatment at a Chicago Nursing Home
The common complaints listed above can turn into injuries and rapidly worsening health. If you suspect a resident is being mistreated in a nursing home, make a report to the proper authorities and schedule a consultation session with a nursing home abuse attorney.
The City of Chicago advises residents to contact the following departments to report suspected elder abuse or neglect:
- Chicago Department of Family & Support Services – 312.744.4016
- Illinois Department on Aging Help Line – 1.866.800.1409
You can also file a health care complaint against a Chicago nursing home with the Illinois Department of Public Health. This can be done by phone by calling the Central Complaint Registry Hotline at 800-252-4343. Options to file a complaint by mail, fax, or email are also available.
Finally, contact a reputable law firm in the Chicago area to learn more about your loved one’s rights as a nursing home resident. At Thomas Law Offices, we provide free, no-obligation case evaluations to inform families of their legal options. If your loved one suffered an injury due to a slow response time, poor quality food, or social isolation, your family may be entitled to help hold the facility accountable for negligence. Contact our law firm to learn more today.