Unsafe Staffing

Unsafe Staffing

More than 186,000 residents and staff have died from COVID-19 in nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other long-term care settings. The figure accounts for about one-quarter of the U.S.’s entire COVID-19 death toll.  More than 2,000 resident deaths died from COVID-19 for a second month in a row.

Unsafe staffing levels in nursing homes, particularly among registered nurses, are associated with worse outcomes for residents, including more COVID-19 cases, deaths and a higher likelihood of an outbreak. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities had issues with staffing even before the pandemic, and, now, burnout from the pandemic has led to more retirements across the healthcare industry.

Staffing Shortages

Nursing homes have lost 221,000 jobs since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living released a self-serving report shows that other healthcare sectors have recovered, nursing homes remain stagnant.

It showed employment in nursing homes declined by 220,000 from 1.58 million in March 2020 to 1.36 million in October 2021. Assisted living centers also lost 38,000 jobs in that time period. Nursing home experts note that unsafe staffing is a long-standing problem in the industry. Low wages, lack of benefits and poor workplace culture are well-known causes. Burnout is commonplace.

A new AARP analysis of government data indicates a third of the nation’s 15,000 nursing homes reported unsafe staffing because a shortage of nurses or aides. The numbers represent the worst staffing shortages since the government began collecting COVID-19 data from nursing homes in May 2020. As a result, the CDC recommends a booster shot for residents and caregivers.

The national rate of fully vaccinated staff climbed significantly, jumping 7 percentage points in October, from 67 percent last month to 74 percent. It’s the biggest monthly increase in staff vaccinations since AARP began analyzing vaccination data in June.

Staffing Agencies

With 14% of its workforce gone since the start of the pandemic, nursing home operators are whining about staffing agencies. The increasing use of agency staff negatively affects the quality of care. Jealousy may occur when employees discover how much more money agency staff receive. Paying inflated rates for agency staff who don’t provide consistent quality care is a tough expense to justify.

“One entity is heavily regulated and held accountable for patient care, and rightfully so, and the other entity is price gouging and has no accountability at any regulatory level and they are actually the ones providing patient care,” Moe Freedman, president of Illinois-based-Accolade Healthcare told Skilled Nursing News. “We’re fighting an uphill battle right now. There is no oversight on agencies, on top of the fact that they are price gouging us.”

American Health Care Association petitioned for more oversight and regulations on use of staffing agencies. In a letter sent last month, AHCA/NCAL asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate direct care staffing agencies for price gouging and anticompetitive and unfair practices. The letter accused agencies of increasing their prices because of bail out funds.

“This price gouging is simply not sustainable for our providers and the current reimbursement system structure,” the letter states.