WASHINGTON — The idea of growing old can frighten many people, especially if they don’t have anyone to care for them later in life. Those thoughts can be even more terrifying if it means moving into an assisted living facility or a nursing home. A new survey is revealing just how scary old age care is to Americans, with 70 percent saying it’s uncomfortable to think about needing to live in a nursing home.
More than four in 10 Americans believe nursing homes are unsafe, leading 61 percent to also feel uneasy about admitting their loved ones into assisted living facilities. The poll, conducted by West Health and Gallup, finds just one in four (26%) people think nursing homes are safe places for seniors. A third of the survey group are still undecided.
As one might expect, the poor view of nursing homes gets worse as people get older — and possibly closer to needing elder care. Americans over the age of 35 were much more likely to view nursing facilities as unsafe in comparison to younger adults (44% to 34%).
Along with general safety, a staggering 70 percent of Americans have doubts about the overall quality of care seniors receive inside nursing homes. Nearly half (49%) worry about the cost of living in such a place, and 45 percent believe it would negatively impact their mental health.
These fears outweighed more common societal stigmas attached to nursing homes, such as losing independence (34%), the fear of dying in such a place (28%), and the possible threat of physical violence (27%). All of these factors led Americans to give the current state of nursing home care in the U.S. a barely passing grade of D+.
In fact, only 18 percent of respondents said they would be comfortable with moving into a nursing home if they could no longer take care of themselves without help.
Will the government fix the problem?
The survey results come after a White House proposal to create mandatory minimum staffing levels for nursing facilities that participate in Medicare or Medicaid. Researchers note that there are approximately 15,500 nursing homes in the country, caring for over 1.2 million people. However, poor staffing levels are believed to be the root cause of many problems within these homes.
“Nursing homes serve a vital role in our society, but improvements are needed beyond staffing that will ensure quality and restore confidence in a system of care that most Americans have serious concerns about,” says Tim Lash, president of West Health, a family of nonprofit, nonpartisan organizations dedicated to improving aging and healthcare in America, in a media release. “Meanwhile, home- and community-based services, which are often preferred choices for care, are struggling to meet demand due to worker shortages, low wages and poor provider reimbursement. Policymakers must also do more to support these programs that offer an alternative to institutional settings.”
How low is the nation’s current opinion of nursing homes? The poll finds just one percent of Americans give the quality of care in nursing homes an A grade. Another eight percent give nursing homes a B.
“Nursing homes are perceived poorly by most Americans, many of whom share trepidation about the prospect of ever needing one for themselves or a family member,” says Dan Witters, a Gallup senior researcher. “This signals that these institutions do not have the benefit of the doubt. Nursing homes have a need to better demonstrate that they are safe places for older adults and provide a high quality of care.”
The survey was conducted between July 5 and 24, 2023, with data collected from 2,145 American adults ages 18 and older. The topic of the study, which was fielded by Gallup via the Gallup Panel, is Americans’ Perceptions of Nursing Homes in the U.S.
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