One-third of North Carolina nursing homes report staff shortages as pandemic enters third year

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RALEIGH, North Carolina (WTVD) – As the COVID-19 pandemic enters its third year, nursing homes across the state are feeling the effects.

According to federal data, about a third of facilities in the state report a shortage of nurses and orderlies.

“I’ll tell you that right now the highest percentage of nursing homes in North Carolina reporting a labor shortage is the highest at any time during the pandemic.” said Adam Sholar, president and CEO of NC Health Association of healthcare facilities.

Nursing homes in Wake, Durham and Cumberland County are faring slightly better, with less than 20% of facilities reporting a shortage of nurses and caregivers.

The North Carolina Health Care Facilities Association found that the pandemic and low wages were the main reasons employees cited for leaving the field. A survey carried out by the association over the summer estimated that the workforce had fallen by 12.5% ​​since January 2020, as more than 15,000 employees left the facilities.

“We continue to see employees leave this workforce month after month, largely citing reasons related to COVID or global exhaustion and the path we are on is not sustainable,” said Sholar. “This is a workforce crisis. “

Although nursing homes faced shortages before the pandemic, the continuing decline is worrying for Sholar and others.

Shortages are causing some establishments to stop accepting new residents. Sholar said in the fall that about 60% of institutions in the state reported restricting admissions.

“There are countless North Carolinians today who need care in a retirement home but are not in a retirement home and they cannot go to a retirement home because there is no not enough staff to care for them there, “he said.

Nancy Ruffner, patient advocate and founder of Navigate NC, helps connect families to senior care across the Triangle. She said the pandemic coupled with a shortage of home helpers and nursing home staff had taken its toll on families.

She said it is more difficult to research the best care options for families now, as families have to navigate capacity limits but also assess the health risks associated with each option. Ruffner is concerned about the long-term impact of continued labor shortages.

“I’m worried, very worried, for my clients that they have options,” she said.

Some fear that the impending federal immunization mandate could further reduce the workforce. About 21% of nursing home workers in North Carolina are still unvaccinated, according to the latest federal data. The warrant was originally scheduled to go into effect this week, but various legal actions have delayed it.

Vaccination rates in the Triangle for workers are above the state average, with 91% of Wake County staff reportedly fully vaccinated and 90% in County Durham.

A survey carried out over the summer by the NC Health Care Facilities Association found that 50% of unvaccinated employees said they would quit if a warrant was applied.

The health of nursing home residents also remains a concern. This week, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported nearly 250 ongoing outbreaks in nursing homes across the state. Statewide, 13% of nursing home residents are unvaccinated.

Both Ruffner and Sholar have said the biggest problem is salaries, which will require better funding from the government.

“Until government payers pay adequate rates to nursing facilities, they cannot turn around and offer higher wages to their employees,” Sholar said.

The NC Health Care Facilities Association also works with community colleges across the state to train nurse aides. The association has received a federal grant and aims to train 4,000 helpers in the years to come.

However, these shortages will not be corrected overnight or without continued attention.

“I’m scared. I’m scared of this,” Ruffner said. “There are already millions of unpaid caregivers, people who devote 20 more hours a week after their conventional work to caring for their loved ones at home. And we are only accelerating their breaking point. don’t know what the answer is and I know moving towards a solution is education, having conversations like this. ”

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