Nursing homes and assisted living communities continue to feel the burden of a worsening staffing shortage. The profession has lost more than 230,000 caregivers – nearly 15 percent of the workforce – since the beginning of the pandemic. Now, the highly contagious Omicron variant is causing a record number of new staff cases in nursing homes, where health care workers must follow isolation protocols when they test positive. The lack of workers is forcing many facilities to limit admissions, furthering straining overwhelmed hospitals that rely on them to free up beds. Some states, including Minnesota, New Jersey and New York, have deployed the National Guard to aid short-staffed facilities. Major news publications have reported on the severity of the staffing crisis in recent weeks, bringing national attention to the situation:
Fox News: US nursing homes short 230,000 caregivers in historic staff shortages: Dr. David Gifford, chief medical officer of the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) says, “People are burnt out, people are leaving, but now people are getting sick with Omicron, and so they can’t come into work. That’s sort of a double whammy. We really need help. We need help from the states, the feds to send staff in our sector. We’ve responded to the hospitals, but they’re forgetting about the nursing homes.” View video here:
The Boston Globe: Nursing Homes At A Tipping Point: Many Are Forced To Freeze Admissions, Stranding Patients In Hospitals For Weeks: “State data show just nine nursing homes were ordered to freeze admissions in the past month after exceeding the case limit. But over 60 percent of homes reported closing admissions intermittently because of staffing shortages, according to Massachusetts Senior Care Association, a trade group … Last month, the Baker administration deployed 300 National Guard members to help 55 overwhelmed hospitals and 12 ambulance service providers. Mass Senior Care said similar help from the Guard is sorely needed in nursing homes, too, for assistance in nonclinical roles including laundry, housekeeping, meal preparation, and delivery.” View story here:
The Washington Post: Nursing Home Staff Shortages Are Worsening Problems At Overwhelmed Hospitals: “Nursing home bed and staff shortages were problems in the United States before the coronavirus pandemic. But the departure of 420,000 employees over the past two years has narrowed the bottleneck at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities at the same time that acute care hospitals are facing unending demand for services due to a persistent pandemic and staff shortages of their own. With the omicron variant of the coronavirus causing even more hospitalizations, the problems nursing homes face are taking on even more importance. Several states have sent National Guard members to help with caregiving and other chores.” Read story here:
The New York Times: National Guard Empties Bedpans And Clips Toenails At Nursing Homes: “Over the past two weeks, 30 Guard members have been working as certified nursing assistants at North Ridge, which has been so badly hobbled by an exodus of employees that administrators have been forced to mothball entire wings, severely limiting new admissions. As a result, hospitals cannot send patients to long-term care centers like North Ridge, creating a backup that is eroding Minnesota’s capacity to treat people with Covid-19 and other medical emergencies. Similar backlogs – hospital patients well enough to be discharged but too fragile to go home – are choking health systems across the country.” Read story here:
Associated Press: COVID-Era Nursing Home Staff Crunch Hurting Hospitals, Too: “The worker shortage at nursing homes predated the pandemic, but has worsened over the past two years in a state with one of the nation’s highest proportions of older people. A recent survey of long-term care facilities found that 20% of the long-term care workforce – representing tens of thousands of people – has departed since early 2020, with the result that 85% of Pennsylvania nursing homes are now limiting new admissions. One nursing home operator in western Pennsylvania said it is declining 80% of resident referrals from hospitals, the survey said.” Read here:
Last week, AHCA/NCAL sent a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra urging him to extend the Public Health Emergency (PHE). With the Omicron variant project to last for weeks to come and amid this historic labor crisis, extending the PHE will help long term care providers respond to the challenge.
Lawmakers must prioritize long term care. Support from federal and state governments will help nursing homes and assisted living communities to build and maintain the robust workforce needed to care for our seniors.