featured graphic for American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living after COVID-19

Long term care sector continues to battle worsening workforce crisis

Caregivers in long term care facilities continue to exit the profession, resulting in a worsening labor crisis. According to data from the Bureau of Labor, nursing homes have lost more than 380,000 employees because of the pandemic. A recent American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) survey found that nearly every nursing home and assisted living community is currently facing a workforce crisis.

Reports indicate that the staffing shortages show no signs of slowing. McKnight’s Senior Living reports that nearly 49 percent of nurses are likely to exit the profession over the next two years, according to a ShiftMed survey of 250 nurses. Among respondents who said they may leave, 38 percent intend to pursue non-patient-facing roles in healthcare, while 31 percent plan to leave the healthcare industry completely. Higher pay, better shifts and more flexible scheduling were among some of the factors that respondents said might convince more nurses to stay in the field.

The staffing shortages are forcing facilities to turn away new residents. In fact, 58 percent of nursing homes have had to limit new admissions because of a lack of employees. As a result, occupancy rates have been slow to recover. This puts a strain on the entire health care system, as overwhelmed hospitals are unable to discharge patients to nearby skilled nursing centers, and residents and families are left scrambling looking for alternative locations.

Chronic Medicaid underfunding, combined with the billions of dollars providers have spent to fight the pandemic, leave long term care providers unable to solve this crisis on their own. Offering higher wages and better benefits would enable providers to attract new workers and incentivize current workers to stay, but they simply lack the financial means to compete against other health care employers.

Now, long term care facilities are facing yet another challenge. As providers turn to direct care staffing agencies to help alleviate workforce challenges, some agencies are price gouging providers by charging double – and in some cases quadruple – what providers pay their staff. AHCA/NCAL sent a letter to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairwoman Lina Khan, requesting that the FTC use its authority to investigate this price gouging and take appropriate action to protect long term care facilities.

Lawmakers must act now. The reconciliation package currently under discussion can help address this urgent labor crisis. AHCA and LeadingAge have also offered several solutions to bolster the workforce in its Care for Our Seniors Act. This includes assistance programs for caregivers through tax credits, loan forgiveness and childcare, as well as incentives for higher learning institutions to train the next generation of health care heroes.

The workforce crisis ultimately threatens access to care for vulnerable seniors. Without immediate solutions, residents who require around-the-clock assistance may be left with fewer options for care. They may have to relocate farther away from their families and community of choice. It’s time for Congress to put their full support behind our nation’s health care heroes, so every senior can get the care their need.