Survey: 94% of US nursing homes experiencing staff shortage amid pandemic

Senior care facilities say workforce conditions worse, essential staff quitting

A resident wearing a face mask to protect against the spread of coronavirus looks on though a window at DomusVi nursing home in Leganes, Spain, Wednesday, March 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez) (Manu Fernandez, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

A recent survey found that U.S. senior care facilities are facing or have recently faced staff shortages amid a tumultuous year.

A survey conducted by the American Health Care Association (AHCA) found that, out of 616 nursing homes and 122 assisted living facilities, 94% of nursing homes and 81% of assisted living communities have recently faced a shortage of staff members.

More than half of nursing homes and assisted living communities who responded to the survey said their workforce situations have either gotten somewhat worse or much worse compared to last year. In 2020, more than half of the surveyed facilities had essential staff, like certified nursing assistants and dietary staff, quit.

The majority of providers believe higher reimbursement to offer better pay and benefits would help recruit and retain staff members. In 2020, more than half of facilities said staff in essential positions, such as CNAs or direct caregivers and dietary staff, have quit. (The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living)

“The survey results clearly indicate that the long term care workforce is facing serious challenges, and our country must make significant investments to help address these shortfalls,” said Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of AHCA.

Nursing homes and assisted living facilities have been significantly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, as many residents of such facilities are more vulnerable to contracting the virus. Assisted living facilities were sources of COVID-19 outbreaks all across the U.S. throughout the pandemic.

The inspector general from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported Tuesday that deaths among Medicare patients in nursing homes soared by 32% -- or 169,291 deaths -- in 2020 compared to 2019. The report also says that about 4 in 10 Medicare recipients in nursing homes had, or likely had, contracted COVID-19 in 2020.

Read more: Watchdog: Nursing home deaths up 32% in 2020 amid pandemic

In Michigan, the administration’s handling of nursing home policies amid the pandemic has been criticized and scrutinized by Republican lawmakers and residents alike, claiming the policies may heave lead to more deaths. In March of this year, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel declined Republican lawmakers’ request to investigate nursing home orders and deaths amid the pandemic.

In August 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice requested nursing home data from Michigan, as well as other states, to determine if the states’ COVID responses warranted an investigation. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office complied with the request.

Once coronavirus vaccines were made widely available in the U.S., older, more vulnerable populations were prioritized to receive their shots first. In Michigan, 79.3% of residents aged 65 and older have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, and 75.3% are considered fully vaccinated as of June 22.

Still, senior care facilities across the U.S. continue to struggle with COVID outbreaks, despite vaccine availability.

Federal data shows that in the first two weeks of May, 472 nursing home deaths were related to COVID compared to 10,675 deaths in the first two weeks of January this year. Nursing homes and assisted living communities continue to experience scattered outbreaks, which many attribute to unvaccinated staff members.

Read more: Despite vaccines, nursing homes struggle with outbreaks

On Tuesday, most COVID-19 restrictions were lifted in Michigan, including all capacity limits and a broad mask mandate, for the first time in more than 15 months. Residents living at senior care facilities may now come and go as they please, and can welcome visitors again.

See: Residents of senior living facility in Birmingham celebrate as COVID restrictions are lifted

Related: Delta COVID variant found in 5 Michigan counties

About the Author:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.