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Good economies bring bad nursing home conditions, study says

Dec. 7 (UPI) — As the economy rises, the quality of nursing homes falls, a new study says.

An investigation by researchers, published Friday in The Gerontologist, studied over a decade of data and connected a low unemployment rate with the inability of nursing home management to recruit and maintain quality employees due to the physical and mental strain associated with the job.

“During economic downturns, many people are willing to take positions with work environments they may not prefer because there aren’t many options. But when the economy is good, there are plenty of employment opportunities and taking a nursing home job may not be that attractive,” said, Sean Shenghsiu Huang, an assistant professor at Georgetown University’s School of Nursing & Health Studies and the study’s principal investigator, in a news release.

Using data from Medicare and Medicaid, along with county-level employment numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the researchers tracked nursing home employment data from 2001 to 2015.

They found that nursing homes had greater compliance with health regulations and their residents received better physical treatment during rocky economic times.

High staff turnover keeps nursing homes from assigning the same staff to the same resident, which experts associate with quality care.

“It is clear from our data that as unemployment rates increased, nursing home quality was higher as fewer residents would develop pressure ulcers, be restrained, and experience weight loss,” Huang says. “This is likely due to nursing home staff. Higher unemployment rates are linked to higher nursing staff levels. In these recessions, nursing homes were better able to retain their staff and reduce turnover.”

Lower unemployment times brought on higher turnover of nursing aides, lower retention rates and fewer nursing staff workers.

“The solution lies with changes to federal and state policy, such as measures to increase reimbursement for nursing home care with the goal of paying staff enough to make these positions attractive,” Huang said. “In general, the work environment offered by nursing homes are not considered desirable — and this situation, especially in today’s economy, needs to be addressed through better compensation and benefits.”

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