A Numbers Game: Resident Acuity and Staffing – Part Three




We cannot provide person-centered care without the personnel.  My previous comment, Part Two, presented a list of symptoms that arise from dementia.  These symptoms are the constant companions of those living with more advanced dementia, and their care partners.  The symptoms create behavioral challenges we CNAs must and want to respond effectively, so our residents can feel secure, content, at home.  

We have our list of dementia symptoms.  But wait—there’s more.  Let’s look concretely at the workday of a LTC direct-care worker.  Aides work an 8-hour shift, with one-half hour mandatory meal break.  (In some places they are also entitled to or permitted to have a second 15-minute break.)  The first and last ten or so minutes of a shift are spent getting and giving shift updates to the previous or next shift of aides.  Aides will also need one or two bathroom breaks during a shift.  Thus an aide has about 7 hours (420 minutes) left for care tasks.  This scenario doesn’t take into account the moments an aide might need for a calming ‘time-out,’ for a few minutes of helpful conversation with another aide or a supervisor, for an important phone call from home, for time spent walking from one task to another or one resident to another.   And it doesn’t allow for other encounters we expect aides to have with residents, creating ‘moments of joy.’ 

Aides will customarily be responsible for the care of six to ten residents on a shift that has plus or minus 420 minutes of usable work time.  (And would you believe the number of residents might be higher?)  If you do the math, you see that aides may have 42 to 70 minutes for each resident.  Seventy minutes to help a person exhibiting symptoms of dementia with toileting, washing (on certain days showering), grooming, dressing or undressing, moving to the dining room, eating, returning to the day room, using the toilet during the day.  And these are just the essential ADLs.   

Other tasks aides are responsible for during a shift: 

  • for safety purposes, keep alert to where each resident is;
  • distribute drinks to prevent hydration;
  • serve snacks;
  • check toileting needs and assist residents with this as needed;
  • help with transfers (from bed to wheelchair, wheelchair to lounge chair, lounge chair to wheelchair, wheelchair to toilet and back several times in a day, wheelchair to bed) for those residents who cannot transfer themselves;
  • help other aides with two-person-assist transfers;
  • answer resident questions throughout the shift (“When can I eat?” “Where is my mother?” “When will my son be here?”  “I’m cold, where is my jacket?” “Don’t I have a doctor’s appointment today?”) ; 
  • in between ADLs engage with residents through conversation, music, activities;
  • accompany residents to other areas of the building as needed for medical care, hairdressing appointments, other events.

In some LTC communities aides are also responsible for making beds, doing laundry and putting it away, or other housekeeping duties.  Throughout the day there are spills to clean up, phones to answer, paperwork to be done, questions from visitors.  If an aide is tired from working a second job, or a double shift, this will slow the aide down.  If an aide has a bad back that day, or sore knees, or is pregnant, these things will also mean the aide has a lower energy level or slower response time.  All these factors take a toll.  If some aide should call out at the last minute and the shift is short-staffed, this further impacts care.   Even if forty or fifty or seventy minutes of care per resident were sufficient—and really, it’s not—at the current staffing levels in most LTC homes, residents don’t get even this.  I challenge administrators to refute this with data.  

Is it really acceptable to pare staff levels so thin that we impair not only the quality of care but the safety of residents and aides alike?  Is it acceptable that the owners of long-term care homes are sustaining their organizations by controlling their costs with sub-par staffing levels?  Those responsible for setting care and staffing standards should feel responsible for doing something about the unacceptably low staffing requirements they’ve established and tolerated, thanks to lobbying efforts of the long-term care industry.  (Shame on you, CMS.)  The rest of us should hold them accountable.  Families and direct-care workers and anyone who is an advocate for those living in long-term care communities:  Unite!  Lobby!  Write, email, text, twitter.  Demand that your care home managers and your state legislators see what is before their eyes.  For added clout, partner with organizations that advocate for better long-term care.  To any CNAs up for a little non-violent guerrilla warfare: sneak a copy of these comments to a few trusted family members of residents.  Ask them to bring the staffing issue up at a Family Council meeting.  Send a copy anonymously to your Administrator.  

Owners, operators, executives and regulators of LTC homes will say that we don’t need more staff, we need more or better training.  Our CNAs need to work ‘smarter.’  And there is something to this, we do need to look at work assignments and patterns and at aides’ understanding of how to interact with persons with symptoms of dementia, etc.  But tell me how all this will change the fact that an aide may, on a good day under ideal conditions, have 70 minutes to give a resident.  (A resident who may be paying $5000 to $8000 a month for memory care.)  

This isn’t a game.  Would we let a dog lie in a kennel and give that animal only seventy minutes of direct attention a day?  Long-term care homes don’t care for dogs, they care for human beings.  Tell me please, how can we sit still and stay quiet about this appalling reality, one minute longer? 

One thought on “A Numbers Game: Resident Acuity and Staffing – Part Three

  1. Bob Goddard

    Excellent series Minstrel. There is no way anyone can say they are concerned about the well-being of our elders in LTC and then ignore caregiver workloads. We have to keep repeating this basic message over and over again to as many people as possible. You spelled it out here as clear as anyone could.


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