A Strong Workforce Is Essential In Caring For America’s Long Term Care Residents

Workforce; Advocacy; COVID-19
During the pandemic, dedicated caregivers worked more than ever before to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their residents. Staff members worked day in and day out to provide additional one-on-one care and help prevent transmission of the virus, all while serving as surrogate family members for their residents. But the pandemic also exacerbated workforce challenges that have plagued long term care facilities for years. 

A recent survey from the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) found that more than half of the nursing home and assisted living providers have lost key frontline staff due to workers leaving last year, including certified nursing assistants (CNAs) and dietary staff. Close to 75 percent of nursing homes and nearly 60 percent of assisted living communities say their overall workforce situation has gotten worse since 2020.

As our elderly population grows, it is expected that four-fifths of Americans 65 and older will need long term care services. But workforce challenges are a direct threat to access to care. Without enough workers, providers will be unable to meet the anticipated increase in demand, leaving seniors with fewer options for care. Providers are scrambling to fill important roles, but many are struggling just to keep their doors open. Lack of financial resources prevents providers from being able to invest in strengthening their workforce.

Medicaid underfunding is the primary contributor to the workforce challenges.  Dr. David Gifford, chief medical officer of the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL), said, “Everyone knows that Medicaid underpays … Salaries are about 70 percent of our [expenses] overall and so we just can't offer competitive salaries compared to hospitals and other settings.” 

Eighty-one percent of nursing home providers and 75 percent of assisted living communities stated that higher reimbursement to offer better staff pay and benefits would help improve the facility’s ability to recruit and retain staff members.

AHCA and LeadingAge released a comprehensive reform package, the Care For Our Seniors Act, which includes a multi-tiered approach to address workforce challenges. This includes solutions that will help recruit and retain the best caregivers to join the front lines, such as loan forgiveness and tuition reimbursement programs for graduates who work in long term care, as well as tax credits and programs for affordable housing and childcare assistance for licensed long term care professionals.

Our health care heroes deserve our support. With proper funding, providers can offer meaningful jobs with competitive wages and in turn, enhance the overall quality of care for their residents. It’s time for federal and state governments to make long term care facilities a priority.

The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) represents more than 14,000 non-profit and proprietary skilled nursing centers, assisted living communities, sub-acute centers and homes for individuals with intellectual and development disabilities. By delivering solutions for quality care, AHCA/NCAL aims to improve the lives of the millions of frail, elderly and individuals with disabilities who receive long term or post-acute care in our member facilities each day. For more information, please visit www.ahcancal.org or www.ncal.org.