Staffing shortages increase in North Carolina nursing homes | WFAE 90.7

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More nursing homes are reporting staffing shortages in North Carolina than at any other time during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a WFAE analysis of data released this month by the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services.

The data, collected during the first week of March, surveyed the state 427 approved retirement homes. Of these, 403 responded to questions related to staffing.

More than 42% of nursing homes that responded – or 171 in total – reported experiencing shortages in at least one of four critical areas: nurses, clinical staff, clinical aides and other staff.

By comparison, 26% of care homes that responded said they were understaffed in at least one of these four areas a year ago. Some 28% said they were understaffed in May 2020 when the government first started collecting the data.

As of this month, clinical aides and nursing staff seem to be most needed. Some 154 North Carolina nursing homes said they lacked clinical aides, 142 said they needed nursing staff, 94 said they lacked other staff and 13 said they lacked clinical staff.

High turnover has been a problem in the nursing home industry for decades, said Cynthia Hancock, director of UNC Charlotte’s gerontology program, but the coronavirus pandemic appears to have exacerbated the problem to a level never seen before. .

“We’ve always struggled to keep people in direct care in nursing homes, but the fact that people are leaving and we’re not able to fill those positions is kind of a big new challenge.” , Hancock said.

Nationally, the nursing home and residential care industry lost approximately 392,000 workers since the start of the pandemic, which Hancock said has brought the workforce back “to where it was 15 years ago”.

Salary concerns, burnout

According to a survey conducted in January by the North Carolina Health Care Facilities Association.

The survey also found that 91% of nursing homes across the state have raised hourly wages, 97% are paying shift premiums, and 95% are using recruitment and retention bonuses.

However, 84% of care homes that responded said vacancies persisted because they had received few or no applicants.

This could be because nursing homes compete with national retailers and private health care systems that have also increased wages during the pandemic, with many offering $15 an hour or more for positions. beginners who require little or no training.

In 2020, the median hourly wage for direct caregivers in North Carolina was $11.91, according to PHI Nationala policy research group focused on long-term care.

Many nursing homes may simply not be able to match $15 an hour, especially those that rely heavily on Medicaid funding. Hancock said those facilities may not be able to raise salaries significantly unless state or federal lawmakers decide to increase Medicaid reimbursements and, in turn, provide more money to facilities.

Culture change needed

Hancock said those lawmakers and industry leaders need to think about how to help care homes become more attractive to potential and current employees to help address the staffing crisis.

“We need to create a culture where people want to come and work,” Hancock said. “Part of that includes fair pay, opportunities for advancement, good training so you feel confident in the environment you’re in and don’t feel like you’re just a cog in the wheel.”

Otherwise, staff shortages could continue to worsen, especially as remaining workers are called upon to take on more responsibility to fill vacancies and in turn suffer more burnout.

According to the North Carolina Health Care Facilities Survey, 98% of nursing homes in the state used overtime and double shifts and asked employees to work overtime or take additional quarters.

Almost half – 49% – of care homes also said they were keeping facilities below capacity due to understaffing, and 10% had suspended accepting new admissions.

Hancock also said she believes workers should have a greater say in decision-making in nursing homes and that society as a whole should place more value on those who work in caring for people. elderly, especially in nursing homes and assisted care facilities.

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