If you have a family member in a South Carolina nursing home, you’ve likely been concerned at times about whether there were enough qualified staff members available to provide the level of care and personal attention your loved one needs and deserves. A recent study by The New York Times and Kaiser Health News confirmed what many people already knew: Staffing levels at many facilities are too low.

One reason for the low numbers, according to the report, may be a change in how facilities report staffing data to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). At one time, nursing homes self-reported their staffing numbers. When an inspection from the federal agency was anticipated, they could staff up temporarily or “game the system,” in the words of the report.

However, with the Affordable Care Act of 2010 came a requirement that facilities provide payroll records to the CMS as verification of their daily staffing levels. Under this new, more accurate reporting method, about 70 percent of nursing homes throughout the country have shown lower staffing levels. The average decrease was 12 percent.

Insufficient nursing home staffing can have serious and even fatal consequences for residents. For example, when residents can’t get a staff member to help them to the bathroom, they’re more likely to try to make the trip on their own and suffer a fall. Requiring people to remain bedridden when they could get up and move around with some help can cause other medical issues.

Those who manage these facilities say that improving staffing levels is difficult. They have to work with the funds they get from the CMS. That means they can’t offer wages that have qualified caregivers lined up for jobs. As one nursing home industry advocate says, “No matter what you do, you can’t manufacture bodies that don’t exist.”

Staffing levels, which are one element used to rank nursing homes on the CMS’s Nursing Home Compare website, can provide those looking for a facility for a loved one with one important indication of the care they can expect. However, no matter how good a facility’s reputation may be, neglect and even abuse can cause serious and, too often, fatal injuries. If you believe that a loved one was the victim of neglect or abuse, find out what your legal options are for holding those responsible accountable.