Long Term Care Providers Call For Workforce Support Amid Pandemic

COVID-19; Research and Data

Long term care providers were already facing a workforce shortage prior to COVID, and the pandemic has only exacerbated this crisis. For nearly a year, workers across the health care sector – including those in long term care facilities – have been stretched thin, working around the clock to protect those in their care. Heroic caregivers have taken on countless hours of overtime and double shifts to make up for widespread shortages. Despite increasing burnout, they have never wavered from their commitment to keep vulnerable seniors safe.

An analysis of government data by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) Education Fund found that workforce shortages persist. Their report found:

  • More than 3,000 U.S. nursing homes last month had a shortage of nurses or other direct-care staff, and it’s a crippling problem that has existed since last May.
  • For most of last year, more than 200,000 people at any given time were in nursing homes that themselves acknowledged they were suffering from staff shortages.
  • The number of facilities reporting shortages of nurses, aides or clinical staff actually increased from May to December. By early December, 23 percent of homes reported a shortage of at least one category of direct-care staff.

  • Staff shortages also fueled more COVID outbreaks in nursing homes among residents and staff.  More cases mean more stress for workers, more workers who contract the virus or are exposed and then, even more staff shortages.
Dr. David Gifford, chief medical officer of the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL), said in the report, “COVID-19 is taking a considerable toll, physically and emotionally, on our health care heroes in long term care … Burnout is a real concern for all health care workers during this pandemic.”

Long term care provides have been calling for help since the beginning of the pandemic. A new report released this month by nonprofit research and consulting group Altarum found that nursing and residential care facilities lost 13,000 jobs during the month of December, and 264,000 jobs overall since February – a 7.8 percent drop in employment when compared to pre-pandemic levels. In comparison, the health care sector gained 39,000 jobs in December after gaining 31,000 in November.

As a first step to address this crisis, Congress must pass another COVID relief package as soon as possible. AHCA/NCAL has asked Congress to approve $100 billion to the Provider Relief Fund and dedicate a substantial portion of this fund to long term care. This funding will help providers with the ongoing costs of fighting the virus, including staffing. Keeping health care heroes safe on the job is critical as well, which is why AHCA/NCAL is also calling on lawmakers to ensure long term care is an ongoing priority for resources, like personal protective equipment.

Additionally, we must work together toward long-term solutions that will address workforce shortages. AHCA/NCAL has long advocated for programs to help attract and retain new talent. With a growing elderly population, many will rely on long term care for their health care needs, and we must be able to meet the expected increase in demand.

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.