The COVID-19 pandemic has put a tremendous strain on nursing homes and assisted living communities across the country, but one area that continues to worsen among facilities is the workforce crisis. Long term care facilities are experiencing growing staff vacancies as burned-out caregivers exit the profession.
A recent American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) survey found that 86 percent of nursing homes and 77 percent of assisted living providers say their workforce situation has gotten worse in just a few months.
Providers want to offer higher wages and better benefits to attract and retain employees but lack the necessary funds to do so. For years nursing homes have faced low Medicaid reimbursement rates that do not adequately cover the cost of care. These low rates, coupled with additional expenses from the pandemic, have left many facilities in financial turmoil. And now as staff challenges grow, providers are left without the means to hire new workers or keep their current ones.
Washington Newsday recently reported the dire labor shortages in long term care. According to data from the Bureau of Labor, nursing homes and residential care facilities have lost more than 425,000 employees during the course of the pandemic.
Fewer caregivers are forcing many facilities to have to turn away new residents. The AHCA/NCAL survey also found that 58 percent of nursing homes have had to limit new admissions because of a lack of employees. A recent story in MarketWatch highlighted the significant drop in nursing home occupancy during the pandemic. In just the span of a year, occupancy rates fell from 85 percent to 68 percent. Now, nursing homes are struggling to recover due, in part, to staffing shortages, as occupancy rates have only increased to 72 percent.
These alarming drops in employment signify the urgent need from Congress. Lawmakers can address chronic staffing challenges through the reconciliation package currently in discussion. In addition, the Care for Our Seniors Act, a comprehensive reform proposal developed by AHCA and LeadingAge, offers solutions such as assistance programs for caregivers through tax credits, loan forgiveness and childcare, as well as incentives for higher learning institutions to train the next generation of health care heroes.
Long term residents require around-the-clock clinical assistance. When they cannot access the nursing home or assisted living community they want due to staffing shortages, they are left scrambling to look for alternative options often farther away from their families and community of choice. Lawmakers must recognize the severity of the workforce shortage plaguing long term care and work together to invest in these heroic caregivers, so no resident is left without the care they need.