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Nursing home staffing levels tied to increased death rates in good economies

May 9, 2012
by Charlene Marietti
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The relationship between unemployment and mortality rates is direct--and counter-intuitive. Research findings more than 10 years ago documented that nursing home deaths increase under good economic conditions. But until recently, the question has been, why?

The results of a more recent study, Why do more people die during economic expansions? conducted by The Center for Retirement Researchat Boston College and published in April 2012, found the increase largely due to the deaths of people over 65 and in nursing homes. Most of the people are women.

Analysis showed that when the unemployment rate declines one percentage point, nursing homes suffer staff shortages that exceed the single data point. Full time employment rates drop by three percent for aides and more than two percent for nurses.

The study’s authors conclude that when labor markets are tight, it is easier for nursing home workers, many of whom are low-paid and have limited skills, to find better paying jobs, leaving nursing homes with lower nursing staff/resident ratios and their residents more vulnerable.

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