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Many nursing homes lack qualified social workers

Residents of nursing homes here in New Mexico rely on social workers to develop plans addressing their health needs, which can change quickly and often. Social workers help residents cope with severe mental and cognitive issues, such as depression and dementia, and can be important advocates for them and their families.

The federal government holds nursing homes responsible for addressing the psychosocial needs of every resident. However, national standards only require facilities with 120 beds or more to employ one full-time social worker who doesn't have to have a degree in social work.

Study assesses New Mexico's standards

The Scripps Gerontology Center says its research shows 83% of nursing homes in the United States have at least one part-time qualified social worker on staff, but only 68% have at least one full-time social worker.

A 2018 University of Minnesota study says New Mexico's standards are slightly higher than federal requirements. The New Mexico Human Services Department (HSD) requires each nursing home facility to provide for social services of residents but does not require each facility to have a qualified social worker on staff.

Qualifications for social workers

HSD requires facilities to address the social needs of residents through full-time or part-time social workers or referrals. Criteria for these individuals include:

  • Bachelor's degree in social work, sociology or psychology and one year of social work experience in a health care setting, or
  • Master's degree in social work from a graduate school of social work accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, or
  • If a facility's designated person does not meet educational requirements, the facility must have at least a monthly consultation from a social worker who does meet the standards

Social workers help residents and families achieve better results

The Scripps Gerontology Center study says staffing priorities for most nursing homes focus on the number of nurses providing care. However, the study says the best results for residents occur when their social needs are also addressed along with their physical care.

Nursing home neglect can contribute to physical, sexual and emotional abuse of residents. Poor care can, in many cases, be a form of elder abuse. An experienced attorney here in New Mexico can help families of nursing home residents who experience abuse address those issues and pursue compensation.

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