ICYMI: Nursing Home Staffing Shortages Cause Ripple Effects in Rural Communities, Throughout Health Care Industry

​Nursing homes continue to face historic workforce challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Labor shortages and financial strain have forced many nursing homes nationwide to limit the number of residents they can accept or permanently close their doors.
An article in The Texas Tribune paints a staggering picture, as there has been an 18 percent decrease in registered nurses employed in nursing homes since 2019:
“Texas does not have enough nurses for its senior care facilities. The shortage is fueled by a number of factors. There is a growing apathy burning through the nursing industry, and the COVID-19 pandemic only fanned the flames. Baby boomers are both retiring from the nursing profession and needing care themselves. Nursing homes have been hit particularly hard by this crisis due to financial constraints and medical students wanting jobs in more prestigious fields. 
“In the backdrop of the staffing crisis is another troubling trend in Texas: Nursing homes are closing. A report from Texas Health and Human Services shows that from 2018-22, at least 60 nursing facilities in the state — 2% — have lost the battle to inflation, low Medicaid reimbursement rates and other financial burdens.
“For Texas elders and their families, the dearth of new health care professionals in aging populations is dire. At best, they are waiting longer to find beds and paying more when they do. At worst, they are deserted, forced to navigate their last years without the sort of support an aging facility can provide.”
Rural communities have been hurt the most by nursing home closures. The Texas Tribune story continues:
“Finding a home where elders can live out their lives safely and with dignity is hardest for families that live in the empty stretches of rural Texas. Nearly two-thirds of the nursing homes that have closed since 2018 were in rural areas. And seven were in the High Plains, the region that stretches from Lubbock to the top of the Panhandle.
“‘In rural areas, it’s common for the next closest nursing home to be 30 miles away or farther,’ said Alyse Meyer with LeadingAge Texas, an advocacy organization that works with 200 aging-service providers across the state. ‘There are other factors that are important to families when forced to choose a new nursing home for their loved one.’”
Staffing shortages have caused a ripple effect on the health care system at large. Nursing homes are having to turn away patients ready to be discharged from hospitals, creating significant backlogs. Axios reports:
“Health worker shortages are keeping hospitals from discharging patients for post-acute care and prompting pleas to Congress for per diem Medicare payments to cover the longer stays …
“Discharging patients to long-term care facilities was challenging even before the pandemic, but COVID-19 dramatically disrupted the process, making it hard for facilities to accept patients in the midst of outbreaks …
“Long-term care facilities continue to grapple with staffing problems, which limits the available spots for a hospital to discharge to.”
Axios details how hospital backlogs have left some emergency room patients waiting on beds and sometimes dying, according to the American College of Emergency Physicians in a letter to President Biden last week. Other emergency rooms have backups spilling into the hallways and waiting rooms. At one hospital in Spokane, Washington, a handful of patients have been waiting to be released for more than 100 days. Christopher Kang, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians, said, “The system is at a breaking point.” 
Staffing shortages are leaving many of our most vulnerable citizens and their loved ones with fewer options for care. AHCA/NCAL has called for comprehensive solutions that address the underlying causes of these workforce challenges. Lawmakers must prioritize the long term care sector by providing resources that will enable facilities to recruit and retain staff, thus building a pipeline of dedicated workers to care for our nation’s seniors. ​