Most North Dakota Nursing Homes Freeze Admissions As Staffing Problems Rise


Due to the reduced occupancy capacity, nursing homes are reporting that families trying to place residents in nursing homes are calling statewide.

A survey of more than 200 nursing homes in North Dakota found that 57.6% are no longer admitting new residents, according to the North Dakota Long Term Care Association, which conducted the survey.

Many nursing homes are struggling to retain their staff – a problem that could be exacerbated if a federal mandate requires nursing home workers to be vaccinated, some administrators warn.

While the hiring challenges aren’t new, administrators are trying to make plans to take care of residents and keep their facilities open if some employees refuse to be vaccinated.

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“We have never been so desperate before,” said Shelly Peterson, executive director of the North Dakota Long Term Care Association. “We have administrators who cook and clean. “

St. Luke Care Center in Crosby closed in September, its administrator citing increasing financial and staff pressures during the pandemic as one of the reasons. Several others are discussing the shutdown, Peterson said.

Michael Hall, administrator of the Wishek Living Center, said 23 of its 85 employees are not vaccinated. Despite continued efforts to try to convince skeptics of the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, Hall fears eight or ten may not be convinced.

“We did a lot of education,” he said. “We will do even more”, in particular by meeting individually with employees.

Tanya Schnabel, director of finance for the Wishek Living Center, said administrators look forward to the release of federal regulations on the vaccine mandate, including an implementation timeline and whether a testing option will be allowed for those who refuse. the vaccination.

“We’re just waiting for the other shoe to drop,” she said. “In the meantime, we have to plan. “

The Wishek Living Center, once allowed to have 60 beds, has already reduced its occupancy to 54 beds, of which 48 are occupied.

“At this point, we’re just looking at how we can take care of the residents that we already have,” Schnabel said.

If the workforce drops by eight or 10 people, as Hall and Schnabel are concerned, more drastic measures will have to be taken.

“It won’t be good for our facility if we lose so many employees,” she said.

The Wishek Living Center is content with 10 traveling helpers, mostly orderlies but also a member of the kitchen staff, Hall said. The center pays the traveling staff about double what it pays the employees.

“So we are already in a staffing crisis,” he said. “It could push us to the limit. “

Meanwhile, as most other care homes also freeze admissions, the Wishek Living Center receives calls from people across the state desperate to place an elderly loved one in care.

“We get them from all over the state,” Hall said, adding that priority is given to area residents. “We have to serve our local community.

The reluctance to vaccinate is due to several factors. “Some people say, ‘I don’t like injecting anything into my body,’” Hall said. A woman said her husband would not allow her to get the vaccine, he added, and some cite religious reasons.

“Some people think it should be their choice,” Schnabel said. “I don’t want to point the finger at unvaccinated staff. It takes a special person to be in health care.

The Wishek Living Center tests unvaccinated staff twice a week, requires staff to wear masks, and has a special visitation room. Since the start of the pandemic, three residents have tested positive for the coronavirus, none resulting in death, Schnabel said, adding that 93% of residents are vaccinated.

“We would just like to see options for our employees,” such as testing for the unvaccinated, she said, “not a direct mandate.”

The vaccination mandate for nursing home staff comes amid a declining number of non-renewals of certified nursing assistants during the pandemic, Peterson said.

Non-renewals fell from 3,705 in 2019, before the pandemic, to 4,607 in 2020, she said. At the same time, the number of new certified nursing assistants declined during the pandemic, from 4,545 in 2019 to 4,059 in 2020, Peterson said.

“We need staff,” she said. “They must be staffed beds.”

In addition to the risk of infection, nursing home staff also face heavy precautions, including wearing personal protective equipment.

“It’s been a really intense 20 months for them,” said Peterson.

North Dakota has 5,211 licensed retirement home beds, 84% of which were occupied by early October, she said.

Thirty-eight of the 216 nursing homes in North Dakota have imposed their own vaccination mandates. These nursing homes are primarily located in Bismarck and Fargo, but the Good Samaritan Society of Sanford Health, which serves many rural communities, is among the organizations requiring vaccination, Peterson said.

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