The ripple effect from the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the country’s nursing homes. A late 2021 and early 2022 staffing shortage in nursing homes is expected, making it critical to monitor your loved ones. Staffing shortages in long-term care facilities are linked to abuse and neglect. Find out how to keep your loved ones safe.
Fewer Staff Members Lead to More Problems in Nursing Homes
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, nursing homes have faced an unprecedented crisis with understaffing — and unfortunately, the problem of staff shortages in nursing homes has still not been solved.
In fact, a November report from AARP announced that 30% of nursing homes in the U.S. faced staff shortages between September and October. Even more alarming, almost 75% of the nation’s nursing homes reported that their workforce had decreased in 2021.
The sad reality is that staff shortages in nursing homes often lead to frustrated workers, increasing the chances of nursing home neglect or even nursing home abuse.
“Even on [a nursing home’s] best day, if you’re fully staffed, things can still go wrong. But things will definitely go wrong if you’re staffed at a third of what you need.”
— Lori Porter, CEO of the National Association of Health Care Assistants
What’s Causing the Nursing Home Staff Shortage?
Several factors are causing the nursing home staff shortage. One of the most significant contributors is the well-known labor shortage plaguing the entire country.
Additionally, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports there was a staffing problem in nursing homes even before the pandemic. Once the pandemic began, nursing homes became one of the industries that was hit the hardest.
There’s also the persistent vaccination hesitancy that has caused some employees to quit their jobs to avoid employer-mandated vaccines. Despite every state having a vaccination rate of almost 60% or higher, many staff members choose to not get vaccinated.
Combined, all of these issues put nursing home staff levels — and, in turn, the quality of care that residents receive — in jeopardy.
Staff Shortages & Risks to Nursing Home Residents
Staff shortages in nursing homes are known to put nursing home residents at risk. There are several reasons for this, including the more obvious ones such as stressful working situations and staff burnout. However, other factors posing risks to nursing home residents may not be as apparent.
Outbreaks of COVID-19
According to AARP, staffing shortages in long-term care facilities are linked to more COVID-19 nursing home infections and deaths.
Because the pandemic is ongoing, it is critical for nursing homes to have enough vaccinated staff members. This is important because many workers will be forced to miss work if another outbreak occurs, leaving the facilities understaffed.
Nursing Home Abuse & Neglect
The tragic reality is that there is a documented link between staff shortages in nursing homes and diminished quality of care. States have enforced staffing level minimum requirements to prevent several types of health problems in nursing home residents.
Health issues that may be caused by inadequate staffing include:
- Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
- Weight loss
When facilities are sufficiently staffed, there are more people available to take care of residents. This makes it easier for employees to identify emerging problems and treat them before they spiral out of control.
Furthermore, employees can become burnt out without adequate staffing, and take their frustrations out on the residents. They may begin neglecting residents’ needs, physically harming them, or causing emotional distress — none of which are ever acceptable.
Closure of Nursing Homes
Another risk created by staff shortages in nursing homes is that some facilities may be forced to close without enough employees to safely run them.
In September, Forbes reported that over one-third of all nursing homes feared they would have to close due to a lack of employees.
Nursing home closures can place a great deal of stress on families, as the residents will need to find another place to live.
Ensuring your loved one is in a nursing home with a great reputation is of utmost importance to guarantee a good quality of life.
Possible Solutions to Nursing Home Staff Shortages
States across the country are working to tackle staff shortages in nursing homes to keep residents from suffering.
For example, in Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz announced a plan to train and send out 1,000 certified nursing home assistants (CNAs) by early 2022 to relieve staff shortages.
In Missouri, nursing homes have begun hiring temporary employees to fill gaps in staffing. And in New York, Gov. Kathy Hochul activated 120 National Guard medics to work in nursing homes.
As the pandemic continues, more state and federal actions must be taken to address the staff shortage in nursing homes. Our country’s most vulnerable population will continue to have a high risk of injury and death without a proactive policy approach to improve nursing home care.
Options for Families Affected by Nursing Home Staff Shortages
The most important thing for families to remember is that understaffing is never an excuse for nursing home abuse and neglect.
If your loved one was harmed in a nursing home, report it to:
- 911 (in case of emergency)
- Adult Protective Services (APS)
- Nursing home ombudsmen
- Nursing home abuse lawyers
You may also wish to use the Nursing Home Compare tool to find well-staffed facilities in your area.
While relocation may seem like a major undertaking that you aren’t sure if your loved one can handle, it might be in their best interest to move to a facility with fewer staff problems. Adequate staffing is an important measure to ensure they get the care they deserve.
Remember: nursing home residents deserve a high quality of life, so care facilities must provide enough staff members to meet their residents’ needs.