MANKATO – The newly proposed personnel reinforcements cannot arrive soon enough for the besieged nursing homes.
Gov. Tim Walz said on Friday he would put the National Guard on high alert and use other options to help fill gaps in long-term care facilities.
Facilities in south-central Minnesota and throughout the state are struggling to retain and recruit workers, a challenge made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lack of staff prevents some hospital patients from being transferred to long-term care facilities for recovery. This puts more pressure on hospital systems, which face their own staffing issues.
Walz’s proposal to strengthen the long-term care workforce is designed to take the pressure off hospitals. Helping the National Guard will take time, however, said Patti Cullen, president / CEO of Care Providers of Minnesota.
âThey have not yet been deployed,â she said. âWe are far from it all. “
Some shorter-term relief could come from emergency staffing pools. The state can contract with roving staff to help with a handful of facilities earlier, Cullen said.
Another option likely to come before the National Guard – which began helping COVID-19 testing sites on Monday – could be through an online staffing tool called Aladtec. Establishments facing staffing crises could use Aladtec in the coming weeks to find workers who match the hours they need.
The tools could play a bigger role if upcoming federal requirements end up mandating vaccinations for staff in long-term care facilities, with few or no exceptions. All workers who choose to quit smoking rather than get vaccinated would leave facilities with even weaker staff.
More finalized details on the requirement, such as whether unvaccinated workers can undergo regular testing like state officials have the option of doing, are expected later this week or next.
As facilities await staff assistance and warrant news, Cullen said they were overloaded and depleted statewide.
“It’s a tense time right now,” she said. “They do all the stuff they can think of and people are still walking.”
Tom Goeritz, administrator of St. John’s Lutheran Home in Springfield, said it was probably the most fragile period for staff morale in his roughly 45 years in the industry.
The facility competes with a lot more employers for workers these days, causing staff to take on more shifts in exchange for incentives and bonuses.
âWe have always competed with healthcare, hospitals and clinics,â he said. “We’ve always had this, but I can’t remember a time when we were challenged by every other industry.”
The Springfield Skilled Nursing Facility has 65 beds. Most of the time, it has 57 to 58 occupied beds, Goeritz said, but it has recently fallen to 53 due to the lack of staff to take care of more.
âWe weren’t admitting for a little while, and now we’re admitting very selectively,â he said, meaning they prioritize admissions from the immediate area.
Goeritz recently met with facility administrators in Mankato, New Ulm, Sleepy Eye and other towns in the region. What he heard from them was pretty much the same as what he saw in Springfield.
He could use about 10 staff in addition to the roughly 150 he currently has, while other administrators he has heard of could use up to 40. The National Guard option and other proposals for staff could help in an emergency, but he said the understaffing is long. -long term problem requiring long term solutions.
“It’s generally seen as short term, and we need permanent staff,” he said. “Someone to help me for a week is not going to cut it.”
Even short-term aid proposals will take time to implement, and it’s unclear how many unemployed workers will turn to long-term care jobs when they re-enter the workforce. Waiting for more staff is frustrating, Goeritz added, because it means more patients who need skilled nursing care are not being admitted.
Other solutions could come from the Minnesota legislature, although none seems likely to come anytime soon. As part of Walz’s announcement, he urged lawmakers to “step up and be an equal partner” to deal with the state’s latest wave of COVID-19 by helping hospitals and nursing homes.