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Ensuring and enhancing nursing home quality has been a long and difficult struggle in the USA. Dr. Harrington and her colleagues' commentary demonstrates the reality of the uphill battle fought for decades by public health professionals and health services researchers armed with data and an industry armed with political power.
Many U.S. nursing homes have serious quality problems, in part, because of inadequate levels of nurse staffing. This commentary focuses on two issues. First, there is a need for higher minimum nurse staffing standards for U.S. nursing homes based on multiple research studies showing a positive relationship between nursing home quality and staffing and the benefits of implementing higher minimum staffing standards. Studies have identified the minimum staffing levels necessary to provide care consistent with the federal regulations, but many U.S. facilities have dangerously low staffing. Second, the barriers to staffing reform are discussed. These include economic concerns about costs and a focus on financial incentives. The enforcement of existing staffing standards has been weak, and strong nursing home industry political opposition has limited efforts to establish higher standards. Researchers should study the ways to improve staffing standards and new payment, regulatory, and political strategies to improve nursing home staffing and quality.
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