Lack of Hand Washing in Nursing Homes Puts Patients at Risk

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Regular hand washing is one of the most important things nursing home staff can do to keep patients healthy and safe. Sadly, research shows that many staff members are leaving out this important step before caring for their patients. This development puts patients at risk for infections, which, in many cases, may be life threatening.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid prescribe the hand-washing requirements that nursing home staff must follow. For example, staff members must wash their hands before assisting residents with tasks such as brushing their teeth, bathing or using the bathroom. However, some of the requirements for hand washing are less immediately obvious. Staff members need to wash their hands after blowing their own noses. They are also required to scrub up after handling used bed linens. Some staffers wash their hands more than 100 times during their working day.

Unfortunately, not all staffers are following this trend. Research shows that hand washing citations have increased in recent years. According to a recent study, 12 percent of nursing homes in 2009 had hand-washing violations.

Infection poses a significant risk to the elderly. In fact, a common cause of death for elderly people is infections contracted in health care settings. Elderly people often live at nursing homes but spend significant time at hospitals as well. In both settings, they are at risk for serious infections.

Although hand washing citations have increased in nurse homes, there are still many facilities that comply with regulations. Additionally, many organizations provide outreach to nursing homes to remind staffers and visitors to keep things clean. Still, no nursing home resident deserves to become ill or die simply because a caregiver wasn’t following rules. Nursing home residents who are injured by a caregiver’s negligence have the right to hold the home and its employees responsible and to seek financial compensation for the harm that has been done.

Source: The New York Times, “The Dirty Little Secret of Nursing Homes,” Paula Span, August 27, 2012.