Reported 14-percent decline

Since the peak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, many nursing homes were either closing, or employees quit due to fear of getting COVID-19. However, since the beginning of this year, nursing homes continued to lose employees, according to The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL). 

A recent report stated that employment in nursing homes has dropped by 14 percent—which is 221,000 jobs—since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The AHCA/NCAL represents more than 14,000 nursing homes, as well as assisted living communities across the states, and provides care for an estimated five million people per year. Not only are long-term facilities suffering from the loss of employment but also its occupants and the few employees who are still working at these healthcare facilities. These employees are underpaid and overworked, resulting in poor care for nursing home occupants. 

According to 19th News.org, more than 1.5 million women who were employed in health care, have left or lost their jobs due to burnout, at the beginning of the pandemic alone. An estimated 81 percent of assisted living communities and 94 percent of nursing homes are experiencing employee shortages, stressing the fact that it has gotten worse in 2021. 

Although physician’s offices, outpatient care centers, hospitals, as well as other health care facilities have surpassed or reached their pre-pandemic employment levels, assisted living communities and nursing homes are continuing to experience essential job losses according to the most recent employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The CEO and president of AHCA/NCAL Mark Parkinson pointed out that these employment challenges for assisted living communities and nursing homes could have different reasons. 

“As many caregivers are getting burned out by the pandemic, workers are leaving the field for jobs in other health care settings or other industries altogether,” Parkinson said in a statement. “Chronic Medicaid underfunding, combined with the billions of dollars providers have spent to fight the pandemic, have left long-term care providers struggling to compete for qualified staff. We desperately need the help of policymakers to attract and retain more caregivers, so that our nation’s most vulnerable have access to the long-term care they need.”

The latest BLS employment data with pre-pandemic employment dating back to March of 2020, shows that nursing homes have lost the most jobs  any health care sector.

According to a survey of long-term care providers released by AHCA/NCAL at the beginning of this year, the labor crisis is getting worse and affecting access to care for seniors at risk.

• 58 percent of nursing homes are limiting 

   new admissions

• 61 percent of assisted living communities 

   and 78 percent of nursing homes are worried 

   labor force challenges might drive them to 

   close

• 77 percent of assisted living providers and 86 

   percent of nursing homes said their labor 

   force situation has become worse in the last 

   months

However, according to a report by LeadingAge, more than 550 nursing homes closed their doors prior to the pandemic. Of that more than half have closed in California, among other states. In general, the average occupancy rate regarding nursing homes is decreasing in many states. 

In addition, Medicaid programs provided by the state vary regarding compensating nursing homes, and the majority of programs don’t pay enough to cover the cost of nursing home care, although Medicaid pays over 60 percent of nursing home care yearly. 

Susan Reinhard, senior  vice president of Public Policy at the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), has witnessed the phenomanom. 

“It’s not a happy situation,” Reinhard told 19th News.org. “People don’t generally want to be relocated.” 

However, sometimes this is the only way, especially when occupancy, as well as employment in nursing homes, are declining, which leads to safety- and proper care issues. According to the National Advisory Committee on Rural Health and Human Services, the closures of nursing homes and assisted living facilities are especially dreadful in rural areas, where help is harder to find.

According to 19th News.org, COVID-19 has hit nursing homes and assisted living especially, and took the lives of over 186,000 employees and patients, notibly for the industry’s “worst financial crisis in history.” Due to the crisis, only one in four of the nation’s 15,600 nursing homes believes it can overcome this and stay open for the near future, a recent survey found out. 

In addition to the existing crisis, the debate of getting vaccinated or not plays a major role. According to AARP, 78 percent of nursing home occupants are fully vaccinated, while only 56 percent of nursing home employees have been vaccinated, which results in a shortage of the industry’s goal of no less than 75 percent. To protect the elderly in nursing homes from COVID-19, the Biden Administration has announced a vaccine mandate that requires nursing home employees to be fully vaccinated within 75 days or they’ll risk losing their benefits. 

Many employers at health care facilities are already having trouble hiring employees and are worried the mandate will make it more difficult to hire competent workers. It might also lead to employees quitting or getting let go. 

The problem is that the American care system for seniors is being neglected and it doesn’t cater to the elderly population. The closing of many senior facilities results in overcrowding of hospitals as many occupants need full-time care. It also adds to more unemployment as it would force many nurses and caretakers out of work, the majority of whom are women. 

Caretakers who do home visits get paid less than minimum wage, without any benefits. Nevertheless, many families are still unable to afford at-home caretakers, even though President Biden has proposed a $400 billion plan towards community- and home-based assistance, including social programs and Medical, which allows Medicaid beneficiaries to reside in their homes. 

Experts weigh in, worrying that if the closure of nursing homes continues, it could result in more homelessness of the elderly, as many find themselves without family and therefore without other options. 

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