The Nursing Home Dilemma

Staffing shortages are widespread across all industries – an economically harmful result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, as the issue grows in nursing homes, they face a mounting crisis.

This staffing shortage has reached critical levels, a sentiment shared by 59% of nursing homes in recent months. In just the three months between June and September of 2021 alone, 86% of nursing homes documented their staffing status as worsening, and an unprecedented 99% of nursing facilities are currently experiencing a shortage. The cost of low staff is becoming more apparent with 78% of nursing homes concerned that their staffing shortages will force them to close. 

With a flux in the senior population, more seniors need care than ever before, and the size of our elderly population is trending upward. 20% of U.S. adults will reach retirement age by 2030, 2 out of 3 will need long term care at some point in their lives, and 1 in 5 will need supplementary care for a minimum of five years. Time is of the essence and now more than ever, care is critical.

The implications of the staff shortage are many. Residents’ hygiene is a growing concern. With less staff come less frequent showers and baths and fewer repositionings to reduce bedsores. Daily tasks become less accessible with less assistance at meal times, and even more dangerous, with more reported sounds and falls. Nursing home environments suffer as well as the shortage produces an increase in nurse turnover and stress.

Prior to the pandemic, a shortage cycle had begun as more nurses were retiring than new nurses could be trained. Even the youngest nurses reported stress and burnout pre-pandemic as well. 

Now, new vaccine mandates pose another challenge, turning more nurses away from their jobs. Ranking 7th of our nation’s lowest vaccination rates, only 56% of Ohio nurses have received the COVID-19 vaccine – a concerning statistic for those working with our most vulnerable populations. Additionally, 58% of nursing home staff face increased risk for COVID-19 – all without additional pay or compensation. 

New paths to recruitment can also aid the shortage. Providing more training opportunities for new nurses, offering nursing programs for high school students, and 8 million new green cards could incentivise more holders to pursue nursing. 

Through three steps, nursing homes can take monumental strides in reducing employee burnout and turnover. First, nursing homes should guarantee and monitor nurse safety. By offering COVID testing, PPE (personal protective equipment), back-up routines, and more efficient communication of policy changes, their employees can be better informed and better protected. Second, nursing homes should strive to give more support. Providing grief and bereavement counseling, an employee assistance program, and a quiet room for much-needed peace at work, they can offer systems of comfort when hard work gets unforgettable. Lastly, nursing facilities must express gratitude for their employees. Applaud exciting news and staff achievements with snacks and celebrations, both acknowledging exceptional work and encouraging others to go beyond as well. While solving the shortage issue is far from easy, maintaining staff by valuing them is a valiant start.

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