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Minnesota nursing home falls blamed on staffing shortages

ST. PAUL -- Some Minnesota nursing homes simply do not have enough employees to prevent residents from falling, two Minnesota Senate committees heard Thursday.

ST. PAUL -- Some Minnesota nursing homes simply do not have enough employees to prevent residents from falling, two Minnesota Senate committees heard Thursday.

"I know we all hope to be independent until the day we die," nursing assistant Cheryl Dryer said.

But she added: "There are not enough staff to make the dream a reality."

Nursing homes report about 1,200 resident falls a year, Darcey Miner of the state Health Department said. But there are no state or federal guidelines on how large staffs need to be, she said.

The department recently increased the size of its investigative staff to 14 to better check on reports of falls and other problems, Miner added.

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Senators took testimony on falls because of recent media reports emphasizing the problem. They took no action.

Dryer told of the 32-resident St. Paul facility where she works, explaining that she and a licensed practical nurse are the only two on the overnight shift. If they are helping someone, another resident who needs help must wait, she said.

Two people "do not have enough hands to provide care our residents deserve," Dryer said.

Jane Ochrymonycz of the Alzheimer's Association Minnesota-North Dakota chapter complained that nursing home workers "are forced to work at breakneck speed" and staffing already "is stretched to the limit."

Limiting falls, she said, is important because they "often start the downward spiral."

But Denise Juday Barnett said her nursing home and others have large enough staffs.

"Falls are one of the key issues we are working on," said Barnett, a New Hope facility administrator.

Because of the type of people in nursing homes, older and frail, falls are to be expected, she said.

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Restraints used to be a common way to prevent people from falling by preventing them from getting up by themselves. Now, it is more common not to restrain residents, asking them to call for staff assistance instead.

Patients always need to be involved in the decision to use restraints and other devices, Barnett said.

Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, said the issue of falls is important because the population is aging quickly, and staff numbers are dropping because of government budget cuts.

"It is going to take more money, said Marty, a DFL governor candidate.

Davis writes for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Herald.

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