Illinois long-term care facilities facing worker shortages

(The Center Square) – The COVID-19 pandemic has created “crisis-level” worker shortages at many Illinois long-term care and nursing home facilities.

The latest labor report shows a continued decline in long-term care jobs. According to the American Health Care Association, there were 2,400 lost nursing home and residential care jobs in May, in addition to the 19,000 jobs lost in April.

A 2020 report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services blamed low wages, challenging working conditions and a high risk of COVID-19 infection for reasons why many left the field last year.

Karen Messer, president and CEO of LeadingAge Illinois, said the shortage is affecting nearly all positions.

“Rural areas particularly are seeing shortages across the board from certified nursing assistants, nurses, as well as dietary staff, weight staff, and housekeepers,” Messer said.

There reportedly were 20 nursing homes in Illinois that have closed since 2014 due to financial reasons, while those who continue to serve the state’s aging population continue to face staffing shortages, an issue that began well before the pandemic.

“I believe that this is critical,” Messer said. “The pandemic has amplified this significantly.”

An AARP report this year found that Illinois nursing homes have the worst patient-to-staff ratio in the country.

AHCA and LeadingAge released a reform proposal, the “Care for Our Seniors Act,” that offers several solutions to help address challenges facing the nursing home industry, including solutions to help build a stronger workforce.

One solution is making a clear pathway for temporary nurse aides to become certified nursing assistants (CNAs). An AHCA survey found that 80% of temporary nurse aides were interested in becoming CNAs.

“Workforce recruitment and retention has been a persistent challenge for years and is among the most pressing challenges confronting long-term care,” said AHCA chief medical officer Dr. David Gifford in a written statement. “Even before the pandemic, chronic Medicaid underfunding left long-term care providers struggling to compete for qualified, dedicated caregivers. It’s high past time that policymakers dedicate the necessary resources to address this workforce crisis.”

A request for information regarding staffing at nursing home facilities run by the state of Illinois, spokesperson Melaney Arnold issued this statement:

“While IDPH (Illinois Department of Public Health) does regulate the requirements to become a certified nursing assistant and keeps the Health Care Worker Registry, I don’t know that IDPH has studied health care workforce shortages.”

Requests for comment from the Illinois Health Care Association went unanswered.

Messer said she is aware that other industries, like hospitality, are facing the same challenges.

“If you and I can’t go out to our favorite burger joint, that is one thing, but when you can’t get a sufficient staff to care for your older adults, that is a whole moral and ethical issue,” Messer said.

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