In the United States, almost every nursing home facility is facing a staffing shortage. Nearly 60% report that their problem has reached critical levels, meaning the home’s ability to keep their doors open is now in question. In Ohio, the 3rd largest state for nursing homes, Cincinnati alone had unmet demand for over 30,000 nursing home positions as of May 2020. Ohio also reported the greatest shortage of nursing assistants in 2020. Their local struggles are indicative of a national problem.
What is Causing the Nursing Shortage?
The main contributor is stress. 62% of healthcare workers across the board have experienced increased stress as a result of the pandemic. During a pandemic that disproportionately harms the elderly, nursing homes became a front line in the fight against coronavirus. Nursing home staff were placed in increased danger while the majority of them received no increase in compensation as a result. It should be no surprise that nursing home employment fell to record lows amid the pandemic.
Yet even before the pandemic, nurses were retiring at a faster rate than their replacements could be trained. Symptoms of stress and burnout are even more common among younger workers. Ensuring safety, providing support, and offering appreciation are all crucial steps in ensuring the wellbeing of workers who have not yet left the profession for greener pastures.
Understandable as the exodus from nursing home work is, this shortage comes at a difficult time for residents. More seniors are in need of care than ever in American history. By 2030, 1 in 5 adults in the US will reach retirement age. 2 in 3 of retired adults will need some form of long term care in their lifetime, some for at least 5 years.
With fewer staff, residents receive less care. Staff ratios fell by 32% during the pandemic. While the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare recommend residents of nursing homes receive an average of 4 hours of nursing care each day, most facilities did not meet this recommendation before the pandemic hit. Lack of staff contact means fewer baths and showers, less help at mealtimes, and increased risk of falling and other injuries. America’s elderly population deserves a quality of care not currently possible to provide with staffing levels as they are.
What’s the Solution?
There is no one solution to the staffing shortage. An obvious suggestion is to provide higher pay and benefits to workers, but most facilities are strapped for cash as it is. In June 2021, 84% of nursing homes faced declining revenue due to fewer incoming patients from hospitals. During the same time period, costs increased due to increased safety measures and need for PPE.
New avenues for recruitment are necessary, even if they will take several years to properly implement. Adding nursing programs to more high schools could increase training opportunities and expose more Americans to the job as they prepare to enter the labor force. 8 million new green cards could also entice immigrant applicants. However it’s done, America’s elderly need nurses.