The pandemic has further exacerbated a labor shortage in the industry, with nursing home staffing at a 30-year low.
Nursing homes have been the hardest hit healthcare sector during the pandemic and as the industry struggles to stabilize amid continued labor shortages, it is working the hardest to recruit and retain talent, said an industry leader.
Since the pandemic, nursing homes have lost more than 223,000 workers, said Holly Harmon, senior vice president of quality, regulatory and clinical services for the American Health Care Association (AHCA).
And while nursing homes have increased salaries more than any other area of the industry – up 9.5% in 2020 and 6.3% in 2021 – staffing levels are approaching their lowest level. in 30 years, Harmon said.
“What I would say is that care home providers have done everything they can to deal with the labor crisis, but care homes are solely dependent on government funding and therefore the resources are limited,” she told HealthLeaders.
The flat Medicaid reimbursements that nursing homes rely on, Harmon said, don’t always cover the full cost of care. This, in addition to rising labor costs, began to drain facility resources.
“The biggest cry for help is that we really need policy makers to support prioritizing long-term care and getting resources and programs that will create a pipeline of caregivers that will support homes. nursing for today and the future with recruitment and retention,” she said.
“And at the end of the day,” she added, “there’s no silver bullet, or answer to that. It’s really [requires] a comprehensive set of approaches that we believe would bring stability to the workforce and support our caregivers in the future. »
Despite recent wage increases, due to the economic pressure of inflation, care homes are struggling to compete with other industry sectors when looking for talent. According to Harmon, 98% of nursing homes have difficulty hiring staff, with their biggest obstacle being a lack of interested or qualified applicants.
“Nursing homes would like to hire more staff, more nurses, more aides to meet the growing needs of residents living in nursing homes,” she said. “However, care homes cannot meet additional staffing needs when they cannot find the people to fill these vacancies, or if they do not have the resources to be able to compete with other employers. “
Harmon notes that care homes offer a range of benefits such as flexible or self-directed hours, mentorship programs and career development opportunities, and are continually innovating and developing others to improve their marketability.
Some of these methods include facilities offering childcare assistance and loan forgiveness for employees who have been working there for a while. Along with education, AHCA’s reform program proposes to develop partnerships with local institutions to help train students, creating a mutual investment where students receive on-the-job training and the institution has a talent pool.
“Nursing homes will also enable staff, whether clinical or non-clinical, to lead efforts at home or in the facility to improve care, and that’s really important,” Harmon said. “In the culture of the facility, nursing home leaders go to great lengths to create a culture of engagement with these people.”
“We have a number of other ideas about how we can really help elevate the nursing home profession for the people who are out there who want to serve our seniors,” she said. “But they’re not able to get a foot in the door because of the challenges that might exist and how we can put programs in place that might accommodate them and help retain them.”