ATLANTA — Behind the elegant lobbies and brochures promising compassionate care, many of Georgia’s senior care facilities fail to provide even a minimum level of care, state records show.
Many senior living centers feature extremely thin staffing — especially at night — and constant turnover among low-paid staff, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported after examining thousands of public records.
At a home in Dunwoody, for instance, a facility had just four workers to care for 98 residents during a 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift.
The failures have resulted in injuries, humiliation and even deaths.
At Sunrise at East Cobb, World War II veteran Adam Bennett, 91, left desperate voicemails to his daughter in the middle of the night, saying, “I’m dying. Hurry. Hurry. Hurry.” He then left another voicemail, once again asking her to hurry, saying “I’m dying right here.”
But her phone was off overnight, and she didn’t hear the messages until later.
After Bennett’s death, doctors discovered broken ribs, a punctured lung and a damaged kidney. Prosecutors said a caregiver had punched him repeatedly. A worker was later convicted of elder neglect.
Sunrise said in a statement that it has made changes at the home, including hiring new staff and retraining workers.
“This situation still weighs heavily on all of us here in Atlanta. We have some of the most compassionate, dedicated team members in the industry and this tragic situation is not representative of our larger team’s values,” said Michelle Minor, the vice president of operations for Sunrise Senior Living.
In Georgia, no degrees are needed to be hired as a front-line caregiver, The Journal-Constitution reported. The state requires on-the-job training in only a few areas, such as CPR, infection control and the special needs of residents with dementia.
Even with such minimal requirements, many facilities don’t comply. During the past four years, more than 2 in 5 homes have been cited for failing to meet at least one part of Georgia’s training requirements. Some have been cited multiple times.
State inspectors have also cited nearly 20% of Georgia homes for failing to have enough qualified staff on duty.
Georgia only requires homes to have a minimum of one care staffer for every 15 residents during the day, and one for every 25 residents at night. Those standards are not adequate, some long-term care experts say.
“One to 15 is just a cruel ratio,” said Catherine Hawes, Regents Professor Emeritus at the Texas A&M Health Science Center and a nationally recognized expert on long-term care.
“It’s cruel to the staff, and it’s cruel for the residents,” Hawes added. “They’re not going to come when you ring the call bell.”
The nighttime ratio is even more perilous, Hawes said.
“One to 25 is crazy,” Hawes said. “If you had a fire at night, people would die.”