Temp workers becoming an increasing threat to resident safety

As if we need another controversy to be concerned over nursing home patient safety, an article in the Los Angeles Times on temporary nurses in hospitals and nursing homes will surely make you cringe. A desire to run a streamlined operation and the inherent uncertainly of required staffing levels has resulted in a booming temporary staffing industry—with nurses in particular.

Unregulated and widely unknown, there are an estimated 3,000 to 6,000 temporary agencies in what is believed to be an industry that takes in more than $4 billion per year and growing.

Although there are certainly many highly qualified and responsible nurses who eagerly accept jobs via temp agencies due to the flexibility and generous pay and benefits, there is a noticeable group of nurses working at temp companies that pose an immediate threat to patients.

An investigation by the non-profit group ProPublica and the Los Angeles Times found many nurses were hired without any background or license checks. In particular, the investigation revealed nurses caring for the sick and elderly had many problems with prior jobs, including:

· nurses with criminal backgrounds such as prostitution, stealing, drugs and possession of cocaine;

· nurses who had their licenses suspended or restricted in other states;

· nurses placed at another facility even after medical facilities continually complained about their performance (including nurses who made errors and fell asleep on the job); and

· nurses hired without any questioning as to why they left a previous agency after having been terminated

No surprise, but it always comes down to money.

An unregulated service, a national nursing shortage, and easy profits (most temp agencies get paid a substantial percentage of the worker’s salary) do nothing to discourage people with no nursing or healthcare knowledge to the field.

Our sick and elderly deserve better. Patients can and should expect that the person who is caring for them is more than a warm body. Facilities must begin to demand that the full background checks be conducted on the fresh faces working in their facilities.

Do you agree? Please respond in the comments below.

Click here to read the Times investigation.

Jonathan Rosenfeld is a lawyer who represents people injured in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Jonathan has represented victims of nursing home abuse and neglect throughout Illinois and across the country. Visit his personal blog at www.nursinghomesabuseblog.com and his Web site BedsoreFAQ.com.

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