Nursing Homes: Low Salaries, Insufficient Staff, and Soaring Profits

Corporate nursing homes may provide lower quality care to its residents and low salaries for its meager staff but they appear to be doing well when it comes to turning a profit. According to ABC News, some for-profit nursing homes are in violation of the Fair Labors Standards Act for the horrific and exploitative way they treat their staff. An undercover investigation found “rampant wage theft” with nursing home staff working for $2 to $3.50 an hour – less than half the federal minimum wage, which is set at an anemic $7.25 per hour. These nursing home chains tend to hire immigrants, knowing they will be afraid of dealing with law enforcement.

The undercover investigation found that these workers usually awake before dawn to “cook meals, shower residents and scrub toilets.” These for-profit nursing homes who are engaging in behavior that could constitute human trafficking typically only hire staffers who will live at the facility. This means the early mornings lead to nights “deprived of sufficient sleep” as they respond to nursing home residents, change diapers, dispense medication, and deal with unruly patients. The nursing home then charges the staff a fee of $25 each day for “lodging” which leaves workers feeling “desperate and trapped.” The national news publication says nursing home workers are rarely allowed a day off and must pay for their substitute when offered this basic human right.

Law enforcement agencies say these for-profit nursing home operators are following a familiar pattern for human traffickers. The nursing home promises stable jobs and the opportunity for citizenship. The victims of their scheme only realize the extent of their new bosses’ abuse once they are already in America, and it is too late. With the nursing home chains ensure they are broke and completely dependent on them for lodging and money, the staffers are isolated and restricted. ABC News reported that many staffers did not feel they could leave the facility.

For staffers who do choose to engage with the legal system and sue their profit-making nursing home, the end result is rarely satisfying. Lawyers who represented these victims point to sympathetic juries and large awards for damages. The companies who own the nursing home rarely pay the verdicts, though. The companies either create elaborate business structures that ensure their assets cannot be reached by successful lawsuits or they just dissolve their company. In most cases, nursing home operators just open in a different name. In one case described by ABC News, a nursing home operator managed to turn a $20,000 profit within just a couple months of a million-dollar jury award for wage theft. She merely dissolved her company and then formed another to operate the nursing home – the same approach she took after losing her first two wage theft lawsuits.

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